Are We Idolaters?

Contemplating our initial post about our idol worship (The Vanity of Idols – Part 1 of The Epistle to Diognetus) let us contemplate the words of our father, St. John Chrysostom, on the love of money and wealth. We must also consider it is possible that our own beauty or athletic ability or our comfort in our intellect may serve as that which makes us feel secure as much as accumulation of wealth does. If relevant to us, let us insert that which we feel gives us ‘security’ where St. John Chrysostom speaks of wealth.

“For a dreadful, a dreadful thing is the love of money, it disables both eyes and ears, and makes men worse to deal with than a wild beast, allowing a man to consider neither conscience, nor friendship, nor fellowship, nor the salvation of his own soul, but having withdrawn them at once from all these things, like some harsh mistress, it makes those captured by it its slaves. And the dreadful part of so bitter a slavery is, that it persuades them even to be grateful for it; and the more they become enslaved, the more their pleasure increases; and in this way in particular the sickness becomes incurable, in this way the monster becomes hard to conquer… this destroyed Ananias and him [who was] with her; this made Judas a traitor; this corrupted the rulers of the Jews, who received gifts, and became the partners of thieves. This has brought in ten thousand wars, filling the ways with blood, the cities with wailings and lamentations. This has made meals to become impure, and tables accursed, and hath filled food with transgression; therefore hath Paul called it “idolatry”: (Col. iii. 5), and even then St. Paul was not able to convince men against love of money. And why does he call it “idolatry”? Many possess wealth, and dare not use it, but consecrate it, handing it down untouched, not daring to touch it, as though it were some dedicated thing. And if at any time they are forced to do so, they feel as though they had done something unlawful. Besides, as the Greek carefully tends his graven image, so you also entrust your gold to doors and bars; providing a chest instead of a shrine, and laying it up in silver vessels. But [you may say] you do not bow down to it as he [The Greek] bows to the image? Perhaps, but you do show all kinds of attention to it.

Again, he would rather give up his eyes or his life than his graven image. So also would those who love gold. “But,” someone may say, “I do not worship the gold.” Neither does he, he says, worship the image, but the devil that dwells within it; and in like manner you, though you do not worship the gold, yet you do worship that devil who springs on your soul, from the sight of the gold and your lust for it. For more grievous than an evil spirit is the lust of money-loving, and many obey it more than others do idols. For the idol worshipers disobey [their gods] in many things, but in this case they [lovers-of-money] yield everything, and whatever it tells them to do, they obey. What does it tell them? “Be at war with all,” it says, “at enmity with all, know not nature, despise God, sacrifice to me thyself,” and in all [these things] they obey. To the graven images they sacrifice oxen and sheep, but avarice saith, Sacrifice to me thine own soul, and the man obeys. Do you see what kind of altars it has, what kind of sacrifices it receives? The covetous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God, but not even so do they fear. ( 1 Cor. vi. 10.) Yet this desire is weaker than all the others, it is not inborn, nor natural, (for then it would have been placed in us at the beginning;) but there was no gold at the beginning, and no man desired gold. But if you will, I will tell you from where the mischief entered. By each man’s envying the one before him, men have increased the disease, and he who has gotten in advance provokes him who had no desire. For when men see splendid houses, and extensive lands, and troops of slaves, and silver vessels, and great heaps of apparel, they use every means to outdo them; so that the first set of men are causes of the second, and these of those who come after. Now if they would be sober-minded, they would not be teachers (of evil) to others; yet these do not have any excuse. For there do exist some who despise riches. “And who,” someone says, “despises them?” For the terrible thing is, that, because wickedness is so general, this seems to have become impossible, and it is not even believed that one can act aright. Shall I then mention many both in cities and in the mountains? And what would it avail? You will not from their example become better. Besides, the goal of our discourse is not that you should give away all of your goods: I wish that you could do so; however, since the burden is too heavy for you, I do not hold you to that; I only advise you that you do not desire what belongs to others, that you impart some of your own goods to others. We can find many like this, content with what belongs to them, taking care of their own, and living on honest labour. Why do we not rival and imitate these?” St. John Chrysostom, Homily XVI on The Gospel of John, Tract 3.

Again, as we read this let us not think only of wealth but also of the many things which possess us and which truly control our lives. For some of us it may be our own positions, our intellect, our appearance, our possessions, certain substances, our relationships and even our careers or the pursuit of our careers which becomes the altar upon which we sacrifice the whole of our lives. Let us consider this timeless saying, scanning our souls for those things to which we offer service or perhaps even the whole of our lives.

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