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Homily 4 on Ecclesiastes 73

The Fourth Homily 334,4 - 338,22 Eccl. 2,7

The evils of slave-owning


The text of Ecclesiastes 2,7-11
334,5. We still find the occasion for confession controlling the
2,7 I got me slaves and slave-girls. argument. The one who gives an account of his doings relates one
and homebred slaves were born for me. after another almost all the things through which the futility of the
and much property in cattle and sheep became mine. activities of this life is recognized. But now he reaches as it were
above all who had been a more serious indictment of things he has done, as a result of which
before me in Jerusalem. one is accused of the feeling of Pride. For what is such a gross
8 J gathered for me both silver and gold. example of arrogance in the matters enumerated above - an opulent
the peculiar treasure of kings and of the countries; house, and an abundance of vines, and ripeness in vegetable-plots, and
I got men and women singers, collecting waters in pools and channelling them in gardens - as for a
and luxuries of sons of man. human being to think himself the master of his own kind? I got me
men and women wine-pourers; slaves and slave-girls. he says, and homebred slaves were born for
9 I was enlarged and I acquired more me. Do you notice the enormity of the boast? This kind of language
than all those who had been is raised up as a challenge to God. For we hear from prophecy that
before me in Jerusalem;
all things are the slaves of the power that transcends all [Ps
my wisdom stood in me.
1191118,911. So, when someone [p335J turns the property of God into
10 And all that my eyes wanted,
his own property and arrogates dominion to his own kind, so as to
did not withold from them, think himself the owner of men and women, what is he doing but
did not keep my heart overstepping his own nature through pride, regarding himself as
from every happiness, something different from his subordinates?
for my heart rejoiced in all my labour,
335,5. I got me slaves and slave-girls. What do you mean? You
and this became my portion
condemn man to slavery, when his nature is free and possesses free
from my labour.
will*, and you legislate in competition with God, overturning his law
1I I looked at all my doings.
for the human species. The one made on the specific terms that he
which my hands did.
should be the owner of the earth, and appointed to government by the
and on all my labour, which I laboured to do,
Creator - him you bring under the yoke of slavery, as though defying
and behold, all is futility and choice of spirit,
and fighting against the divine decree.
and there is no advantage under the sun.
335,11. You have forgotten the limits of your authority, and that
your rule is confined to control over things without reason. For it
says Let them rule over winged creatures and fishes and four-footed
things and creeping things (Gen, 1,26). Why do you go beyond what is
subject to you and raise yourself up against the very species which
I. free, counting your own kind on a level with four-footed things and
twwWl ~"""""'-"'-"".
Homily 4 on Ecclesiastes 75
74 Gregory of Nyssa

him is up for auction too. That means the earth, the islands, the
even footless things? You have subjected all things to man, declares
sea, and all that is in them. What will the buyer pay, and what will
the word through the prophecy, and in the text it lists the things
subject, cattle and oxen and sheep (Ps 8,7-8). Surely [p336J human the vendor accept, considering how much property is entailed in the

beings have not been produced from your cattle? Surely cows have deal?

not conceived human stock? irrational beasts are the only slaves of 337,13. But has the scrap of paper, and the written contract, and
mankind. But to you these things are of small account. Raising the counting out of obols deceived you into thinking yourself the
fodder for the cattle, and green plants for the slaves of men, it master of the image of God? What folly! If the contract were lost,
says (Ps 104/103,14). But by dividing the human species in two with if the writing were eaten away by worms, if a drop of water should
'slavery' and 'ownership' you have caused it to be enslaved to itself, somehow seep in and obliterate it. what guarantee have you of their
and to be the owner of itself. slavery? what have you to sustain your title as owner? I see no
superiority over the subordinate [p338J accruing to you from the title
336,6. got me slaves and slave-girls. For what price, tell me?
other than the mere title. What does this power contribute to you as
What did you find in existence worth as much as this human nature?
a person? not longevity, nor beauty, nor good health, nor
What price did you put on rationality? How many obols did you
superiority in virtue.
Your origin is from the same ancestors, your
reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God? How many staters did
life is of the same kind, sufferings of soul and body prevail alike

you get for selling the being shaped by God? God said, let us make
over you who own him and over the one who is subject to your
man in our own image and likeness (Gen 1,26). If he is in the
ownership - pains and pleasures, merriment and distress, sorrows and
likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted
delights, rages and terrors, sickness and death. Is there any
authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell
difference in these things between the slave and his owner? Do they
me? who is his seller? To God alone belongs this power; or rather,
not draw in the same air as they breathe? Do they not see the sun
not even to God himself. For his gracious gifts, it says, are
in the same way? Do they not alike sustain their being by
irrevocable (Rom 11,29). God would not therefore reduce the human
consuming food?
Is not the arrangement of their guts the same?
race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin,
Are not the two one dust after death? Is there not one judgment

spontaneously recalled us to freedom. But if God does not enslave


for them? - a common Kingdom, and a common Gehenna?

what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God's?

338,14. If you are equal in all these ways, therefore, in what


336,20. How too shall the ruler of the whole earth and all earthly
respect have you something extra, tell me, that you who are human
things be put up for sale? [p337J For the property of the person sold
think yourself the master of a human being, and say, got me slaves
is bound to be sold with him, too. So how much do we think the
and slave-girls, like herds of goats or pigs. For when he said, I got
whole earth is worth? And how much all the things on the earth (Gen
me slaves and slave-girls. he added that abundance in flocks of sheep
1,26)? If they are priceless. what price is the one above them
lind cattle came to him. For he says, and much property in cattle
worth. tell me? Though you were to say the whole world. even so
and sheep became mine, as though both cattle and slaves were subject
you have not found the price he is worth (Mat 16,26; Mk 8,36). He

who knew the nature of mankind rightly said that the whole world was to his authority to an equal degree.

not worth giving in exchange for a human soul. Whenever a human

being i. for 1I.Ie, therefore, nothing lellll than the owner of the earth
i. led Into the •• Ie-room. Presumably, then, the property belonging to

1IiJ..t.I..io.d,-,,-_~,
76 Gregory of Nyssa Homily 4 on Ecclesiastes 77

338.23 - 343.9 Eccl 2.8 reflective. learned, a friend of God. prudent, pure, passion-free.
detached and aloof from all that draws him down towards evil? or.
The uselessness of gold
alternatively, physically strong. pleasant to look at, extending life for
338,23. On top of this [p339J the confession goes even further to many centuries, free from ageing, disease and pain, and all the things
the greatest of sins. For he denounces himself for the root of all sought for in the life of the flesh? But nobody is so absurd or so
evils, which is the love of money (I Tim 6,10>. He says this in these unobservant of our common humanity as to think that these things
very words. gathered for me both silver and gold. Why did he would come to human beings, if only money were poured out before
disturb the gold mingled in the earth and poured out in those places everyone in vast quantities on demand; even now one may see many
in which it was put from the beginning by its Maker? What more did of those already better endowed with such wealth living in a pitiful
the Creator make the earth owe you. besides its crops? Did he not state of health, so that if their servants were not at hand they
allot you only the fruits and the seeds for food? Why do you would not be able to go on living. If, therefore. the abundance of
overstep the bounds of your authority? Or else, show me that these gold proposed in our argument [p341J offers no benefit in body or in
things too have been granted to you by your Creator, that you may soul, it is far more likely that when it is available on a small scale
mine what lies underground, and dig it up and refine it with fire. and it will prove useless to those who possess it.
gather what you have not sown (cf Mat 25.26; Lk 19.21).
341,3. What benefit would there be to its owner in the substance
339.12. Perhaps. however. someone will think there is no objection to itself, which is inert to taste and smell and hearing. and which feels
gathering these riches thus for oneself from the mines in the earth. to the touch of the same value as all its rivals? Let nobody put
But when to this sentence. is added the peculiar treasure of kings and as an objection the food or clothing obtained by purchase with gold.
of the countries. the meaning of 'gathering' no longer admits of an For someone who buys bread or clothes with gold gets something
innocent interpretation. For as it is possible for royal power to useful in exchange for something useless. and lives because he has
gather an abundance of riches from countries - that means. to made bread his food, not gold. But if a person gathers this stuff
impose tribute. to exact tithes. to compel their subjects to pay taxes for himself through such transactions as these, what joy does he
- just so. he says, he has collected silver and gold. have of his money? what practical advice does he get from it? what

339,21. But whether like this, or otherwise. I should like to know training in public affairs? what prediction of the future? what

what will be the gain for the one [p3401 who gathers such stuff. Let comfort for the pains of the body? He gets it, he counts it, he

us grant for argument's sake that it comes to those who love riches stows it away. he stamps it with his seal. he refuses it when asked,

not by the mna or by the drachma or by the talent, but that he even swears by it when disbelieved. That is the blessedness, that

everything turns to gold for them together. Let us suppose that the is the object of endeavour. that is the benefit, that is the extent of

earth. the sand. the mountains, the plains, the valleys. everything. has the happiness to provide himself with the means of committing

suddenly been changed into this stuff all at once. What more will perjury!

life give through these things in terms of happiness? If he sees on 341.18. 'But gold is a fine colour to look at', he says. Surely not
every side what he now sees on a small scale. which of the soul's finer even than fire? or more beautiful than the stars? or brighter
goods. or of the things sought after for the body, will accrue from than the rays of the sun? Who is to prevent you from enjoying
an abundance of this kind? Thus. what hope is there, that someone these. that £p3421 you have to provide pleasures for the eyes through
who lives amidst so much gold will thereby become wise. sagacious, the fin. colour of Slold? 'But fire goes out,' he says, 'and the sun
78 Gregory of Nyssa Homily 4 on Ecclesiastes 79

.et., and the beauty of the bright display is not sustained'. Tell me, them with such affection, would they choose the change, so as to be

what is the difference in the dark between gold and lead? transformed from humanity into gold, and be proved no longer
rational, intelligent. or able to use the sense-organs for living, but
342,5. 'Sut we could not get necklaces from fire or the stars,' he
yellow and heavy and speechless, lifeless and senseless, as gold is?
says, 'and bracelets and buckles and belts and collars and crowns and
do not think that even those [p3441 who set their desire passionately
things like that; but gold does make these, and everything else
on the stuff would choose this.
needed for adornment: His case for the substance has taken his
enthusiasm to the height of futility. This is what I would say to 344,1. If, therefore, for right-thinking people it would be a kind of

them: What is the purpose of the person who decorates the hair with curse to acquire the properties of this inanimate stuff, what is the

gold, or fits earrings into the ears, or fastens an ornamental mindless frenzy over the acquisition of things whose goal is futility,

necklace round the delicate *neck or wears gold on some other part so that for this reason those who are driven mad with the desire for

of the body? He displays the gold wherever he happens to have put riches even commit murders and robbery? - and not only these things,

it on the body, but is not in any way changed into the gleam of the but also the pernicious idea of interest (tokon <literally 'children'»,

gold himself. For anyone who looks at the gold-clad person sees the which one might call another kind of robbery or bloodshed without

gold in the same way as if it happened to be on display in the being far from the truth. What is the difference between getting

market, but [p3431 he sees the wearer just as he naturally is. someone else's property by seizing it through covert housebreaking or
taking possession of the goods of a passer-by by murdering him, and
343,1. Even if the gold is well-made and shaped, and even if you set
acquiring what is not one's own by exacting interest? What a misuse
in it stones which are green or fiery-bright, the person does not any
of words! 'Child' (tokos <= interest» becomes a name for robbery.
more for that assume the appearance of what is attached to him, but
What a sour marriage! What an evil union, which nature knows not,
if there is some blemish on his face or if he is without some feature
but which the vice of the covetous invented between inanimate parties!
an eye lost, or a cheek gouged out in an ugly scar - the
What intolerable pregnancies, from which such a 'child' is produced!
deformity remains in his appearance, not at all concealed by the
gleam of the gold; and if someone happens to be in some bodily 344.16. Among created things. only what is living can be divided into

pain, the stuff brings him no comfort in his distress. the male and the female (Gen 1.27). It was to them that God their
Creator said. Increase and multiply (Gen 1.22 and 28), so that through
producing children one from another the new life might increase
343,10 - 346,14 Eccl 2,8 but from what kind of marriage is the 'child' of gold
abundantly;

Against usury generated? From what sort of pregnancy is it produced? I know the
pains of such childbirth. as I learn from the prophet, Behold, he says.
343,10. If therefore something brings no benefit to those who pursue
he was in labour with injustice. he conceived toil and gave birth to
it, whether in terms of beauty or of physical well-being or of the
wickedness (Ps 7,14/15). This is that 'child' [p3451 with which greed
relief of pains, for what reason is it pursued? and what is the
was in labour. and to which wickedness gave birth. and whose midwife
afhction of those who have set their heart on the stuff, when they
is miserliness. The one who always conceals his fortune. and swears
come to be aware of such a possession? do they congratUlate
that he has nothing - when he sees someone crushed by want. then he
themselves because they have gained something? If someone were to
appe.r. pregnant in the wallet. then he is in labour with the evil
uk them whether they would welcome the chance to have their nature
changed Into It. .nd
~"""..;i
'_"Iv..
1I.ai,,+'&t*W'f!it.'Q
to become what I. honoured among
'chlld' of de.lre for profit, he hold. out hope of a loan to the one

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80 Gregory of Nyssa Homily 4 on Ecclesiastes 81

in distress, he piles money on his misfortune like someone quenching a the evils (/ Tim 6,10). For just as, if a humour accumulates in some
fire with oil.
part of the body, infected and festering, and inflammation develops in

345,7. For he does not heal the injury with the loan, but makes it the place, it is absolutely essential for relief and elimination that the
worse; and, as in times of drought the fields produce crops of collected fluid should burst out when the pus has eaten through the

thistles of their own accord, so also among the calamities of those surface, so, in the case of those [p3471 infected by the disease of

in financial straits the 'children' of the extortioners run riot. It is money-loving, the condition for the most part issues in intemperate

then he reaches out his hand full of money, as the line reaches out behaviour. For this reason, next to the abundance of silver and gold

the hook concealed in the bait, and the victim, snapping at his he puts the consequent indecency which results from the disease

momentary prosperity, disgorges all his hidden inner parts with the already caught. I got men and women singers. the luxuries at the
hook when it is pulled. Such are the benefits of interest (tokon)! banquets, men and women wine-pourers. The mention of the names is
enough to expose the passion, the very thing the money-disease has
345,16. If someone takes someone else's money by force, or steals
prepared the way for.
it secretly, he is called a violent criminal or a burglar or something
like that (Aristotle, Eth Nic I 5 1096a 5); but the one who
347,8. What a grotesque art-form this is! What a massive assault

advertises his felony in financial agreements, and who provides


the flood of pleasures makes, swamping souls by a twofold torrent,

evidence of his own cruelty, and who [p3461 enforces his crime by through hearing and sight, so that evil may be both seen and heard!

contracts, is called a philanthropist and a benefactor and a saviour The singing overcomes hearing, the sight prevails over sight. On the

and all the worthiest of names; and the profit from thieving is
one hand, a treble voice brings with it passions into the heart

called 'loot', but the person who strips his debtor naked by this kind
through the melting harmony of the songs; on the. other, what is

of compulsion gives his harshness the euphemism ·philanthropy'. This seen, assaulting like a siege-engine the eyes of one already quite

is what they call the damage done to those in distress. undone by the singing, overcomes his soul. The wine is captain in
this assault, shooting down the man with pairs of arrows like a deadly
346,6. I gathered for me both silver and gold. Yes, but the reason
archer, aiming the points of the pleasures at hearing and sight; for
why the one who trains mankind wisely includes this also in the list of
the singing becomes a weapon against the hearing, and what is seen,
things confessed is that human beings may learn, from one who has
against the sight.
formed the judgment from experience, that this is one of the things
condemned as wrong, and may guard before the experience against the 347,21. The name 'wine-pourers' is not without significance, but the

onslaught of evil, just as it is possible to pass unscathed by places title comes precisely from the job. When, therefore, [p3481 the neat

infested with robbers and wild animals through the previous knowledge wine is poured out freely for the drinkers, and young persons perform
of others previously imperilled there. such a service, adorned for beauty, whether they are boys dressed
like women or actually of the female sex, busy at the feast and
mixing the unseemly stimulant in the loving-cups, what end can such
346,15 - 348,14 Eccl 2,8 pursuits possibly have? The one who makes pleasure the goal of each

The perils of music and wine of his activities and pays attention to superfluous matters, the

adornment of women musicians for singing, and what dress to put on


346,15. The divine apo.tie give. an excellent description of the
tne wine-pourers - we must be silent on such matters, rather than go
pa••lon of money-loving. when he declare. It to be tne root of .11
deeply into the.. d.talle in our epeech. 80 that recalling them may
....~_~~~._" ~~.u"",,,
84 Gregory of Nyssa

futility and choice of spirit, and there is no advantage under the sun. The Fifth Homily
For all power and activity of the senses has life under the sun as
its limit, and the sensual nature cannot reach what is beyond it and
comprehend the good things which lie above. After examining all such The text of Ecclesiastes 2,12-26
things, therefore, he trains mankind to be favourably inclined to 2,12 I looked myself to see wisdom,
nothing here, such as wealth, ambition, rule over subjects, revelry and and also dizziness and folly;
luxury and feasts and everything else which is reckoned estimable, but for what man is there, who will go after counsel,
to see that the only end of such things is futility, whose advantage the many things she has made?
is afterwards not to be found. 13 and I saw that there is advantage for wisdom over

352,17. People who write in water are engaged in drawing the folly,
shapes of the letters in the liquid by writing with the hand, but as advantage of light over darkness;

nothing remains of the shape of the letters, and the interest in the 14 the wise man. his eyes are in his head,

writing consists solely in the act of writing (for the surface of the but the fool walks in darkness.

water continually follows the hand, obliterating what is written); in 15 1 learned. even I.

the same way all enjoyable interest [p3531 and activity disappears with that one fate will happen to them all.

its accomplishment. When the activity ceases the enjoyment too is And I said in my heart,

wiped out, and nothing is stored up for the future, nor is any trace that the fool's fate

or remnant of happiness left to the pleasure-takers when the pleasant will happen also to me.

activity passes away. This is what the text means when it says and for what have 1 become wise?

there is no advantage under the sun for those who labour for such 1 spoke a superfluous thing in my heart.

things, whose end is futility; and may we too be beyond them, by the because the fool speaks from superfluity

grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever. because this too is futility.

AMEN. 16 For the memory of the wise is not


with the fool for ever,
inasmuch as now are the days which are coming,
all things have been forgotten;
and how shall the wise die with the fool?
17 And I hated together life.
because the doing is wicked in me,
that is done under the sun,
because all is futility and choice of spirit.
18 And I hated all my toil.
which I toil at under the sun.

"
t
82 Gregory of Nyssa Homily 4 on Ecclesiastes 83

not by the very description aggravate the wounds of the more passio­ knowledge of what should be resisted came to him not through small
nate. The reasons for the gold, the purposes of the silver, were examples, but in such a way that his experience advanced to the
this: that you might procure things of this kind as luxurious baits. greatest possible extent, so that no memory of like things among his
predecessors equalled it. For he says I was enlarged and I acquired
more than all those who had been before me in Jerusalem.
348,15 - 353,9 Eccl 2,9-11
350,19. •And now he reveals the purpose for which, when he was
Insinuating pleasure and the Ecclesiast's experience of it
already trained in all wisdom, he descended to the experience of such
348,15. Perhaps that is why the sense of pleasure is called in things. For, My wisdom, he says, stood in me. By these words he
scripture a serpent (Gen 3,1>, which has the natural ability, if its means, 'Through wisdom 1 explored every conceivable enjoyment, and
head slips into a chink in the wall, to pull all the rest of its coils in understanding stood in me at the highest pinnacle of what was [p351l
behind it. What do I mean? Nature makes housing necessary for found there. For sight worked alongside desire, and free choice
humans, but [p349J pleasure, slipping by means of this need into the through the pleasure of the sights took its fill of desirable things;
chink in the soul, turns the need into an immoderate extravagance in so nothing was omitted of the things considered as enjoyment, but
beautification and transfers the urge to that. Then it is to vines and participation in pleasurable things became to me a portion of
pools and gardens and the adornment of vegetable-plots that the property.' That seems to me to mean nothing else but this: 'I
beast, pleasure, crawls onward. After this she comes to a peak of encompassed in myself every conceivable enjoyment, reaping happiness
arrogance and winds pride round her, fastening under her the dominion from what happened as from a piece of property. I did not keep my
over her own kindred. She drags her coil of desire for money over heart, he says, from every happiness, and my heart rejoiced in all my
these, and with that necessarily goes licence, the hindmost part and labour, and this became my portion from all my labour - meaning by
tail of the bestiality of pleasure. 'portion' his property.

349,10. .Just as it is impossible for the snake to be dragged out 351,11. When, therefore, he has recounted his extravagance in detail,
by the end of its tail from the hole it creeps down into, since the running through it from beginning to end and recounting in' his tale
scales naturally [p350] pull in the opposite direction to those tugging everything from which pleasures are gathered by those who enjoy them
it, so it is not possible to begin from the end-results to expel the - the beauties of buildings, vines, vegetable-plots, pools, gardens, rule
insinuation of pleasure, unless one has prevented evil entering in the over one's kindred, excessive riches, the provision of entertainment at
first place. Therefore the guide in virtue also bids us watch for its feasts - all the luxuries, as he names them himself, which his wisdom
htUfld (Gen 3,15), calling the beginnings of evil 'head', since if this is studied, investigating and bringing to his understanding the kind of
not allowed in the remainder is ineffectual. The one who has entirely thing which he says he enjoyed with every sense, the eyes finding
set his face against pleasure will not be brought down by the indivi­ what pleased them and the soul having all it desired, without restraint
dual onslaughts of passion, but the one who has let in the beginning - then he interprets the first word, which was uttered in the
of passion has admitted the whole beast into himself. introduction to the work, [p352J declaring that all things are futile.
He says that when he saw these things he declared of human life, all
350,10. This i. why, after going through everything, the one who
things are futility, all that the sense sees and whatever is pursued
publicly d••crib• • •uch .motions brings hi. account to a head. For
for happiness by mankind. I looked at all my doings, which my hands

havin" .ald at the .tart, I enlarged my doing, h. now adds sfter the
did, and on all my I,bour, which I laboured to do, .nd behold, all is
dltalh.d IlCpolltlon 0' whet hi h.. doni, I w•• enlerglld, .howin" that
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