Homily on Colossians 3:16-17
By John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (A.D. 347 – 407)
“Teaching,” he saith, “and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Mark also the considerateness of Paul. Seeing that reading is toilsome, and its irksomeness great, he led them not to histories, but to psalms, that thou mightest at once delight thy soul with singing, and gently beguile thy labors. “Hymns,” he saith, “and spiritual songs.” But now your children will utter songs and dances of Satan, like cooks, and caterers, and musicians; no one knoweth any psalm, but it seems a thing to be ashamed of even, and a mockery, and a joke. There is the treasury house of all these evils. For whatsoever soil the plant stands in, such is the fruit it bears; if in a sandy and salty soil, of like nature is its fruit; if in a sweet and rich one, it is again similar. So the matter of instruction is a sort of fountain. Teach him to sing those psalms which are so full of the love of wisdom; as at once concerning chastity, or rather, before all, of not companying with the wicked, immediately with the very beginning of the book; (for therefore also it was that the prophet began on this wise, “Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly”; (Ps. i. 1), and again, “I have not sat in the council of vanity”; (Ps. xxvi. 4, Sept., and again, “in his sight a wicked doer is contemned, but he honoreth those that fear the Lord,” (Ps. xv. 4, Sept.,) of companying with the good, (and these subjects thou wilt find there in abundance,) of restraining the belly, of restraining the hand, of refraining from excess, of not overreaching; that money is nothing, nor glory, and other things such like.
When in these thou hast led him on from childhood, by little and little thou wilt lead him forward even to the higher things. The Psalms contain all things, but the Hymns again have nothing human. When he has been instructed out of the Psalms, he will then know hymns also, as a diviner thing. For the Powers above chant hymns, not psalms. For “a hymn,” saith one, “is not comely in the mouth of a sinner” (Ecclus. xv. 9); and again, “Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they sit together with me” (Ps. ci. 6, 7, Sept.); and again, “he that worketh haughtiness hath not dwelt in the midst of my house”; and again, “He that walketh in a blameless way, he ministered unto me.” (Ps. ci. 6, Sept.)
So that ye should safely guard them from intermixing themselves, not only with friends, but even with servants. For the harm done to the free is incalculable, when we place over them corrupt slaves. For if when enjoying all the benefit of a father’s affection and wisdom, they can with difficulty be preserved safe throughout; when we hand them over to the unscrupulous- ness of servants, they use them like enemies, thinking that they will prove milder masters to them, when they have made them perfect fools, and weak, and worthy of no respect.
More then than all other things together, let us attend seriously to this. “I have loved,” saith he,” those that love thy law.” (Ps. cxix. 165, not exact.) This man then let us too emulate, and such let us love. And that the young may further be taught chastity, let them hear the Prophet, saying, “My loins are filled with illusions” (Ps. xxxviii. 7, Sept.); and again let them hear him saying, “Thou wilt utterly destroy every one that goeth a whoring from Thee.” (Ps. lxxiii. 27, Sept.) And, that one ought to restrain the belly, let them hear again, “And slew,” he saith, “the more part of them while the meat was yet in their mouths.” (Ps. lxxviii. 30, Sept.) And that they ought to be above bribes, “If riches become abundant, set [not] your heart upon them” (Ps. lxii. 10); and that they ought to keep glory in subjection, “Nor shall his glory descend together after him.” (Ps. xlix. 17.) And not to envy the wicked, “Be not envious against them that work unrighteousness.” (Ps. xxxvii. 1.) And to count power as nothing, “I saw the ungodly in exceeding high place, and lifting himself up as the cedars of Libanus, and I passed by, and lo! he was not.” (Ps. xxxvii. 35.) And to count these present things as nothing, “They counted the people happy, that are in such a case; happy are the people, whose helper is the Lord their God.” (Ps. cxliv. 15, Sept.) That we do not sin without notice, but that there is a retribution, “for,” he saith, “Thou shalt render to every man according to his works.” (Ps. lxii. 12, Sept.) But why doth he not so requite them day by day? “God is a judge,” he says, “righteous, and strong, and longsuffering.” (Ps. vii. 11.) That lowliness of mind is good, “Lord,” he saith, “my heart is not lifted up” (Ps. cxxxi. 1): that pride is evil, “Therefore,” he said, “pride took hold on them wholly” (Ps. lxxiii. 6, Sept.); and again, “The Lord resisteth the proud”; and again, “Their injustice shall come out as of fatness.” That almsgiving is good, “He hath dispersed, he hath given to the needy, his righteousness endureth for ever.” (Prov. iii. 34.) And that to pity is praiseworthy, “He is a good man that pitieth, and lendeth.” (Ps. lxxiii. 7, Sept.) And thou wilt find there many more doctrines than these, full of true philosophy; such as, that one ought not to speak evil, “Him that privily slandereth his neighbor, him did I chase from me.” (Ps. cxii. 9.)
What is the hymn of those above? The Faithful know. What say the cherubim above? What say the Angels? “Glory to God in the highest.” (Ps. cxii. 5.) Therefore after the psalmody come the hymns, as a thing of more perfection. “With psalms,” he saith, “with hymns, with spiritual songs, with grace singing in your hearts to God.” (Ps. ci. 5, Sept.) He means either this, that God because of grace hath given us these things; or, with the songs in grace; or, admonishing and teaching one another in grace; or, that they had these gifts in grace; or, it is an epexegesis and he means, from the grace of the Spirit. “Singing in your hearts to God.” Not simply with the mouth, he means, but with heedfulness. For this is to “sing to God,” but that to the air, for the voice is scattered without result. Not for display, he means. And even if thou be in the market-place, thou canst collect thyself, and sing unto God, no one hearing thee. For Moses also in this way prayed, and was heard, for He saith, “Why criest thou unto Me?” (Ex. xiv. 15) albeit he said nothing, but cried in thought-wherefore also God alone heard him-with a contrite heart. For it is not forbidden one even when walking to pray in his heart, and to dwell above.