Fathers of the Church
by Gregory of Neocaesarea in During his episcopate, between 240 and 275 A.D. | translated by Rev. S.d.f. Salmond, M.A
THE meats are no burden to us, most holy father, if the captives ate things which their conquerors set before them, especially since there is one report from all, viz., that the barbarians who have made inroads into our parts have not sacrificed to idols. For the apostle says, "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them." But the Saviour also, who cleanseth all meats, says, "Not that which goeth into a man defileth the man, but that which cometh out." And this meets the case of the captive women defiled by the barbarians, who outraged their bodies. But if the previous life of any such person convicted him of going, as it is written, after the eyes of fornicators, the habit of fornication evidently becomes an object of suspicion also in the time of captivity. And one ought not readily to have communion with such women in prayers. If any one, however, has lived in the utmost chastity, and has shown in time past a manner of life pure and free from all suspicion, and now falls into wantonness through force of necessity, we have an example for our guidance,—namely, the instance of the damsel in Deuteronomy, whom a man finds in the field, and forces her and lies with her. "Unto the damsel," he says, "ye shall do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter: the damsel cried, and there was none to help her."
Covetousness is a great evil; and it is not possible in a single letter to set forth those scriptures in which not robbery alone is declared to be a thing horrible and to be abhorred, but in general the grasping mind, and the disposition to meddle with what belongs to others, in order to satisfy the sordid love of gain. And all persons of that spirit are excommunicated from the Church of God. But that at the time of the irruption, in the midst of such woful sorrows and bitter lamentations, some should have been audacious enough to consider the crisis which brought destruction to all the very period for their own private aggrandizement, that is a thing which can be averred only of men who are impious and hated of God, and of unsurpassable iniquity. Wherefore it seemed good to excommunicate such persons, lest the wrath (of God) should come upon the whole people, and upon those first of all who are set over them in office, and yet fail to make inquiry. For I am afraid, as the Scripture says, lest the impious work the destruction of the righteous along with his own. "For fornication," it says, "and covetousness are things on account of which the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth), proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them; for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light." In this wise speaks the apostle. But if certain parties who pay the proper penalty for that former covetousness of theirs, which exhibited itself in the time of peace, now turn aside again to the indulgence of covetousness in the very time of trouble (i.e., in the troubles of the inroads by the barbarians), and make gain out of the blood and ruin of men who have been utterly despoiled, or taken captive, (or) put to death, what else ought to be expected, than that those who struggle so hotly for covetousness should heap up wrath both for themselves and for the Whole people?
Behold, did not Achar the son of Zata transgress in the accursed thing, and trouble then lighted on all the congregation of Israel? And this one man was alone in his sin; but he was not alone in the death that came by his sin. And by us, too, everything of a gainful kind at this time, which is ours not in our own rightful possession, but as property strictly belonging to others, ought to be reckoned a thing devoted. For that Achar indeed took of the spoil; and those men of the present time take also of the spoil. But he took what belonged to enemies; whine these now take what belongs to brethren, and aggrandize themselves with fatal gains.
Let no one deceive himself, nor put forward the pretext of having found such property. For it is not lawful, even for a man who has found anything, to aggrandize himself by it. For Deuteronomy says: "Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray in the way, and pay no heed to them; but thou shalt in any wise bring them again unto thy brother. And if thy brother come not nigh thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring them together, and they shall be with thee until thy brother seek after them, and thou shalt restore them to him again. And in like manner shalt thou do with his ass, and so shalt thou do with his raiment, and so shalt thou do with all lost things of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou mayest find." Thus much in Deuteronomy. And in the book of Exodus it is said, with reference not only to the case of finding what is a friend's, but also of finding what is an enemy's: "Thou shalt surely bring them back to the house of their master again." And if it is not lawful to aggrandize oneself at the expense of another, whether he be brother or enemy, even in the time of peace, when he is living at his ease and delicately, and without concern as to his property, how much more must it be the case when one is met by adversity, and is fleeing from his enemies, and has had to abandon his possessions by force of circumstances!
But others deceive themselves by fancying that they can retain the property of others which they may have found as an equivalent for their own property which they have lost. In this way verily, just as the Boradi and Goths brought the havoc of war on them, they make themselves Boradi and Goths to others. Accordingly we have sent to you our brother and comrade in old age, Euphrosynus, with this view, that he may deal with you in accordance with our model here, and teach you against whom you ought to admit accusations, and whom you ought to exclude from your prayers.
Moreover, it has been reported to us that a thing has happened in your country which is surely incredible, and which, if done at all, is altogether the work of unbelievers, and impious men, and men who know not the very name of the Lord; to wit, that some have gone to such a pitch of cruelty and inhumanity, as to be detaining by force certain captives who have made their escape. Dispatch ye commissioners into the country, lest the thunderbolts of heaven fall all too surely upon those who perpetrate such deeds.
Now, as regards those who have been enrolled among the barbarians, and have accompanied them in their irruption in a state of captivity, and who, forgetting that they were from Pontus, and Christians, have become such thorough barbarians, as even to put those of their own race to death by the gibbet or strangulation, and to show their roads or houses to the barbarians, who else would have been ignorant of them, it is necessary for you to debar such persons even from being auditors in the public congregations, until some common decision about them is come to by the saints assembled in council, and by the Holy Spirit antecedently to them.
Now those who have been so audacious as to invade the houses of others, if they have once been put on their trial and convicted, ought not to be deemed fit even to be hearers in the public congregation. But if they have declared themselves and made restitution, they should be placed in the rank of the repentant.
Now, those who have found in the open field or in their own houses anything left behind them by the barbarians, if they have once been put on their trial and convicted, ought to fall under the same class of the repentant. But if they have declared themselves and made restitution, they ought to be deemed fit for the privilege of prayer.
And they who keep the commandment ought to keep it without any sordid covetousness, demanding neither recompense, nor reward, nor fee, nor anything else that bears the name of acknowledgment.
Weeping takes place without the gate of the oratory; and the offender standing there ought to implore the faithful as they enter to offer up prayer on his behalf. Waiting on the word, again, takes place within the gate in the porch, where the offender ought to stand until the catechumens depart, and thereafter he should go forth. For let him hear the Scriptures and doctrine, it is said, and then be put forth, and reckoned unfit for the privilege of prayer. Submission, again, is that one stand within the gate of the temple, and go forth along with the catechumens. Restoration is that one be associated with the faithful, and go not forth with the catechumens; and last of all comes the participation in the holy ordinances.
(This last canon is probably a later addition.)
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland beginning in 1867. (ANF 6, Roberts and Donaldson). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.