Chrysostom on the Souls of the Wicked

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407
 
However, with your permission, let us return to the proposed subject. “It came to pass,” it is said, “that Lazarus died; and he was carried up by angels,” (Luke xvi. 22.) Here, before I proceed, I desire to remove a wrong impression from your minds. For it is a fact that many of the less instructed think that the souls of those who die a violent death become wandering spirits, (demons.)
 
But this is not so. I repeat it is not so. For not the souls of those who die a violent death become demons, but rather the souls of those who live in sin; not that their nature is changed, but that in their desires they imitate the evil nature of demons. Showing this very thing to the Jews, Christ said, “Ye are the children of the devil,” (John vii. 44.) He said that they were the children of the devil, not because they were changed into a nature like his, but because they performed actions like his. Wherefore also He adds:—- “For the lusts of your father ye will do.” Also John says: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Do therefore works meet for repentance. And think not to say, We have Abraham for our father” (Matt. iii. 7-9.) The Scripture, therefore, is accustomed to base the laws of relationship, not on natural origin, but on good or evil disposition; and those to whom any one shows similarity of manners and actions, the Scripture declares him to be their son or their brother.
 
But for what object did the evil one introduce this wicked saying? It is because he would strive to undermine the glory of the martyrs. For since these also died a violent death, he did this with the intention of spreading a low estimation of them…
 
To show that it is not true that the soul, when it departs from the body, comes under the dominion of evil spirits, hear what St Paul says: “He that is dead is freed from sin,” (Rom. vi. 7,) that is, he no longer sins. For if while the soul dwells in the body, the devil can use no violence against it, it is clear that he cannot when the soul has departed. How is it then, say they, that men sin, if they do not suffer any violence? They sin voluntarily and intentionally, surrendering themselves without compulsion or coercion. And this all those prove who have overcome the evil one’s devices. Thus [Satan] was unable to persuade Job to utter any blasphemous word, though he tried a thousand plans. Hence it is manifest that it is in our power either to be influenced or not to be influenced by his counsels; and that we are under no necessity nor tyranny from him. And not only from that which has just been said, but from the parable, it is quite certain that souls when they leave the body do not still linger here, but are forthwith led away. And hear how it is shown: “It came to pass,” it is said, “that he died, and was carried away by the angels.” Not the souls of the just only, but also those of sinners are led away. This also is clear from the case of another rich man. For when his land brought forth abundantly, he said within himself, “What shall I do? I will pull down my barns and build greater,” (Luke xii. 18.) Than this state of mind nothing could be more wretched. He did in truth pull down his barns; for secure storehouses are not built with walls of stone; they are “the mouths of the poor.” But this man neglecting these, was busy about stone walls. What, however, did God say to him? “Thou fool, this night shall they require thy soul of thee.” Mark also: in one passage it is said that the soul is carried away by angels; in the other, that “they require it;” and in the latter case they lead it away as a prisoner; in the former, they guard and conduct it as a crowned victor. And like as in the arena a combatant, having received many wounds, is drenched with blood; his head being then encircled with a crown, those who stand ready by the spot take him up, and with great applause and praise they bear him home amid shouting and admiration. In this way the angels on that occasion led Lazarus also away. But in the other instance dreadful powers, probably sent for that purpose, required the soul. For it is not of its own accord that the soul departs this life; indeed, it is not able. For if when we travel from one city to another we need guides, much more does the soul stand in want of those who can conduct it, when it is separated from the flesh, and is entering upon the future state of existence. For this reason it often rises up and again sinks down into the depth below; it fears and shivers as it is about to put off the flesh. The consciousness of sin ever pierces us, and chiefly at that hour when we are about to be led hence to the account there to be rendered, and to the awful tribunal. Then, if a man has robbed, if he has been covetous, if he has been haughty, if he has unjustly been any one’s enemy, if he has committed any other sin whatsoever, all the load of guilt is brought fresh to light, and being placed before the eye causes mental compunction. And as those who live in prison are always in sorrow and pain, and especially on that day when they are to be led forth, and brought to the place where they are to be tried, and placed at the bar, and hear the voice of the judge within; as they then are full of fear, and seem no better than dead men, so the soul, though it is much pained at the very moment of the sinful act, is much more afflicted when about to be hurried away. (Four Discourses, Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Discourse 2.1-2)

Comments

  1. “To show that it is not true that the soul, when it departs from the body, comes under the dominion of evil spirits, hear what St Paul says: “He that is dead is freed from sin,” (Rom. vi. 7,) that is, he no longer sins. For if while the soul dwells in the body, the devil can use no violence against it, it is clear that he cannot when the soul has departed. How is it then, say they, that men sin, if they do not suffer any violence?”

    Against Toll-houses?

  2. Thanks for your comments brothers,

    @ Guilherme

    When you read texts like these you have to realize that these are spiritual realities and sometimes different Fathers focus on different aspects of the mystery of death. In this account St. Ephrem does say that “the Angels hurry to take the soul from the body.” “Tollhouses” simply refers to the testing and tempting that the soul undergoes after death by fallen angels. Speaking about this “taxation” or “payment”, St. Cyril of Alexandria says: “At a mystical level, on the other hand, the text refers also to other tax collectors, whom those wanting to live an upright life should avoid; the wicked and hostile powers even demand, as it were, of people on earth attention that is depraved, and collect from them as a kind of tax the inclination to the passions of the mind.” (Commentary on Isaiah Vol. 1: Chapters 1-14 trans. by Robert Charles Hill pg. 97)http://classicalchristianity.com/category/holyfathers/demonicactivity/

    Elsewhere St. Ephrem says:

    “…during it’s voyage toward heaven, the angels scatter the demons who try to bar the soul’s advance.”

    “when the armies of the Lord show themselves and when divine commanders bid him leave the body behind. He shakes, he trembles at the unaccustomed sight of these figures, these choirs he has never seen before. All of us, trembling, say to each other: ‘Pray that your soul leave your body in peace. Pray that it find the angels well disposed.” (excerpted from Roman Catholic patristic scholar Jean Danielou’s “The Angels and Their Mission” pp. 109-110)

    In the post his account is VERY reminiscient of an account by St. Boniface wherein it says:
    “An innumerable band of evil spirits and a bright choir of heavenly angles had also assembled; and there was the greatest dispute between the demons and the angels over the souls leaving the body, for the demons were accusing the dead and making heavy the burden of their sins, while the angels were excusing them and lightening their load…” and also “all his own sins, which he had committed since his youth, and had neglected to confess or forgotten, and some acts which he had scarcely thought sinful, cry out against him, each with its own voice, and make the most dreadful accusations. Each vice came forwards in its own person to speak…” http://classicalchristianity.com/2011/09/17/st-boniface-on-the-soul-after-death/

    In that account the angels and demons are present to escort the soul AND the deeds are crying out of their own accord. My point is that one element being emphasized does not mean that others aren’t present. Sometimes all elements are present in one account, sometimes not.

    @ William

    You didn’t provide a reference but your quote is from Chrysostom’s “Four Discourses on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus”. What he is saying there is that the devil has no power to compulse a Christian soul before nor after death. He continues right where you left off: “They sin voluntarily and intentionally, surrendering themselves without compulsion or coercion. And this all those prove who have overcome the evil one’s devices. Thus [Satan] was unable to persuade Job to utter any blasphemous word, though he tried a thousand plans. Hence it is manifest that it is in our power either to be influenced or not to be influenced by his counsels; and that we are under no necessity nor tyranny from him.”

    His point being that the demons cannot assail you if you have nothing to do with them. They can only bar your soul if you “owe” them, i.e. if the devil can extract the passions from you, he can and will. This is very evident just a few sentences later when Chrysostom says:

    “What, however, did God say to him? “Thou fool, this night shall they require thy soul of thee.” Mark also: in one passage it is said that the soul is carried away by angels; in the other, that “they require it;” and in the latter case they lead it away as a prisoner; in the former, they guard and conduct it as a crowned victor. And like as in the arena a combatant, having received many wounds, is drenched with blood; his head being then encircled with a crown, those who stand ready by the spot take him up, and with great applause and praise they bear him home amid shouting and admiration. In this way the angels on that occasion led Lazarus also away. But in the other instance dreadful powers, probably sent for that purpose, required the soul. For it is not of its own accord that the soul departs this life; indeed, it is not able. For if when we travel from one city to another we need guides, much more does the soul stand in want of those who can conduct it, when it is separated from the flesh, and is entering upon the future state of existence. For this reason it often rises up and again sinks down into the depth below; it fears and shivers as it is about to put off the flesh. The consciousness of sin ever pierces us, and chiefly at that hour when we are about to be led hence to the account there to be rendered, and to the awful tribunal…so the soul, though it is much pained at the very moment of the sinful act, is much more afflicted when about to be hurried away.”
    http://classicalchristianity.com/2011/10/07/chrysostom-on-the-souls-of-the-wicked/

    Again, in this judgment account the angelic powers (good and evil) and the deeds are present. On the flipside the Fathers also teach that a grace-filled life both strengthens the bond with the angels who escort during the ascent and burns the demons who attempt to approach. Hope this helps and not hinders, thanks again for commenting. See here for more post-mortem patristics: http://classicalchristianity.com/category/holyfathers/post-mortem/

  3. Thanks. Do you know the name of this work of saint ephrem? Is there some ebook of this book? Thanks again.

  4. I always try to place the source with every quote. The St. Ephrem quote in the post “St. Ephrem and the Soul After Death” was from the first volume of the Evergetinos, which you can easily purchase. The St. Ephrem quotes I used in my reply to Guilherme were obtained from Danielou’s “Angels and Their Mission”, which is a fantastic little book. Chrysostom’s Four Discourses on Lazarus and the Rich Man can be found here: http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/chrysostom_four_discourses_01_discourse1.htm

    Please don’t hesitate to ask anything else, we may be able to help.

  5. Thanks so much. i’m learning about this and i don’t know nothing. i have some questions:

    1. are the demons judges? what do you think about it? and what did seraphim rose thinks about it?
    2. what do you think about accusations of puhalo?
    3. Basil the New was a gnostic? Puhalo says that he was a paulinist gnostic.
    4. what do you think about some weid citations of saint seraphim? like about octoetos of saint john of damascus; nobody can find that citations on any ocotoetos!
    5. did seraphim think that toll houses aren’t symbolic? and what do you think about it?

    Sorry my poor english man. i’m not an english-speaking. Thanks again :) God bless you.

  6. Hello William,

    Question 1: Are the demons judges?

    Vladimir Moss has the best answer for this objection: ‘To discuss the role of justice and its satisfaction would take us too far from the subject of the toll-houses. Therefore suffice it to say that while all judgement of souls is in the hands of God, He often uses created beings as the instruments of His justice, just as a judge might use lawyers for the prosecution and defence, or a king might use an executioner. Thus we think of the avenging Angel who
    slew all the first-born of Egypt, and of the Archangel Michael’s destruction of the 185,000 warriors of Sennacherib. And it is not only good angels who carry
    out His will in this way: the other plagues of Egypt were “a mission performed by evil angels” (Psalm 78:49). We are not tempted to think, in these cases, that God has lost control: He is simply executing His will through created instruments.’ http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/214/death-toll-houses/

    Question 2: My opinon of Bp. Puhalo is that he is a bishop in the Church therefore he is to be respected. I disagree with him because of all the saints and holy elders who say otherwise. This document demonstrates that several contemporary saints, holy elders and teachers of note teach this doctrine. http://oldbelieving.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/from-repose-to-resurrection-the-intermediate-state-of-souls/

    Question 3: Is Basil the New a gnostic?
    I have a question for you… how in the world did a Paulinist gnostic make it into the calendar of the Orthodox Catholic Church? http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/theodora.aspx

    Question 4: What about wierd citations?
    Fr. Seraphim occasionally used Russian translations that differed from the original Greek. His teaching on tollhouses is not derived from this. In the Octoechos, there are many references to the Toll Houses: “When my soul is about to be forcibly parted from my body’s limbs, then stand by my side and scatter the counsels of my bodiless foes and smash the teeth of those who implacably seek to swallow me down, so that I may pass unhindered through the rulers of darkness who wait in the air, O Bride of God.” Octoechos, Tone Two, Friday Vespers http://www.anastasis.org.uk/weekday_vespers1.htm

    Question 5: Are tollhouses symbolic?
    The teaching pertains to a reality, a final testing of the soul which is veiled in figurative language.
    Fr. Seraphim: We have tried to do something like this in Chapter Six above, in the section called “How to Understand the Toll-Houses,” where, following the explanations of St. Gregory the Dialogist and other Orthodox authorities who have examined these questions, we distinguished between the spiritual reality which the soul encounters after death and the figurative or interpretative devices which are sometimes used to express this spiritual reality. The Orthodox person who is at home in this kind of literature (often through having heard it from childhood) automatically reads it on his own level and interprets its images in accordance with his own spiritual understanding. “Bags of gold,” “pyres of wood,” “dwellings of gold,” and such things in the other world are not interpreted by adult readers in a literal sense…

    It is obvious to all but the youngest children that the name of “toll-house” is not to be taken literally; it is a metaphor which the Eastern Fathers have thought appropriate for describing the reality which the soul encounters after death. It is also obvious to all that some of the elements in the descriptions of these toll-houses are metaphorical or figurative. The accounts themselves, however, are neither “allegories” nor “fables,” but straightforward accounts of personal experiences in the most adequate language at the disposal of the teller. If the descriptions of the toll-houses seem too “vivid” for some, it is probably because they have not been aware of the actual nature of the unseen warfare waged during this life.
    http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/critic.aspx

    Hope this helps. Follow out those links, this issue requires lots of research.

    in Christ,
    Maximus

  7. Good answer. thanks very much. I have still some questions. Can i ask? :)

    1. About Saint John Chrysostom, i found this on internet. What do you think about it?

    “Thus, the holy fathers teach that God controls the destiny of the soul, where it shall dwell, what powers it retains, after its separation from the flesh. The devil has no authority over the soul, asserts St. John Chrysostom, ‘having not the power to bring violence upon the soul, whether in the body or after its departure from it, but, according to the words of the Lord, the beggar died and was carried away by the angels. Not only the souls of the righteous, **but also the wicked are carried away**.’ (On Lazarus and the Rich Man, Homily 2 PG 48 p.984)” http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/evangelist/2000/deathtoll.htm

    2. About the “Homily 2, “On Remembering the Dead”” where can i get it? the full text. it can be in greek. do you know where can i get it?

    3. What do you tink about it?

    “Finally, something to be addressed is the possibility of whether or not the toll-house theory is something that finds its origins in the influence of various heretical Gnostic systems, which existed, in the second and third centuries. Gnostic literature is replete with examples of tollhouse like imagery. For example, in the Gnostic text the first “Apocalypse of James” the risen Jesus imparts the following knowledge (gnosis) to James the Just: “Behold I shall reveal to you your redemption. When you are seized and you undergo these death pangs, a multitude of Archons will turn against you, that they may seize you. And in particular three of them will seize you, namely, those who sit there as supernatural toll collectors, not only demanding toll, but also taking away souls by force.” (Kurt Rudolph – Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism pp.174-175.)”

    Sorry for many questions. I’m studying about it and there’s nothing in portuguese (my language). Thanks for all. God bless you.

  8. Of course you can always ask!

    1) Remember that God controls the demons at all times. They beg Him even to enter into pigs so just as any horrible sin or satanic act committed doesn’t mean that God is not in control, neither do tollhouses. Remember I told you that Satan’s authority has been destroyed by Christ. Chrysostom is saying that the Devil CANNOT compulse a soul, UNLESS the soul gives him authority by willfully enslaving itself to passions:

    St. Basil the Great – I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled all their lives with the invisible enemies,after they have escaped all of their persecutions and have come to the end of life, are examined by the prince of this world; and if they are found to have any wounds from their wrestling, any stains or effects of sin, they are detained. If, however they are found unwounded and without stain, they are, as unconquered, brought by Christ into their rest. (Homilies, On Psalm 7: no. 2; Jurgens Vol. II)

    That’s why it is the demons (fallen angels) that come in to take the rich man to hades. In Chrysostom’s words: “dreadful powers lead the soul away as a prisoner”.Therefore, the saying you quoted is a partial one and doesn’t complete his thought; I sent you the link for that entire quote in context. The demons are magnetically attracted to the passionate soul and the passionate soul will be attracted to the demons no matter how repulsive they appear to it:

    St. Theophan the Recluse – The toll-houses are something frightful. But is quite possible that the demons, instead of something frightful, might present something deceptive and seductive, according to all kinds of passions, to the soul as it passes through one after the other. When, during the course of earthly life, the passions have been banished from the heart and the virtues opposed to them have been planted, then no matter what seductive thing you might present, the soul, having no kind of sympathy for it, passes it by, turning away from it with disgust. But when the heart has not been cleansed, the soul will rush to whatever passion the heart has most sympathy for; and the demons will take it like a friend, and then they know where to put it. (The One-Hundred Eighteenth Psalm, Interpreted by Bishop Theophan, Moscow 1891, reprinted Jordanville, 1976 pp. 289-290)

    St. John Maximovitch – But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them. (A Homily on Life After Death)

    2) I don’t know where to find that saying. It’s quoted by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky in “On the Question of Tollhouses”. It’s probably a homily from the Psalms. St. John Climacus quotes something similar also in reference to the tollhouses.

    Compare the two:

    “The holy angels peacefully separated us from our bodies, and having good guides, we went without harm past the powers of the air. The evil spirits did not find in us what they were seeking; they did not notice what they wished to put to shame; seeing an immaculate soul, they were ashamed; seeing an undefiled tongue, they were silent. We passed by and put them to shame. The net was rent, and we were delivered. Blessed is God Who did not give us as a prey to them” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 2, “On Remembering the Dead”).

    ‘Some of the dying would answer: “Blessed be God Who has not turned away my prayer nor His mercy from me.” (Ps. 62:50) Others would say, “Blessed be the Lord God Who has not given us a prey for their teeth.” (Ps. 123:6) But others would be sad and say: “Will our souls pass through the impassable water of the spirits of the air?” (cf. Ps. 123:5) These would be unsure, and worried about the rendering of accounts after death. (St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5)

    As you can see Ss. Chrysostom and Climacus both make use of hunter/prey imagery in the above quotes. Homily 2 “On Remembering the Dead” is a great quote for tollhouses but it presents nothing different than the Chrysostom quote you’re already familiar with and I gave you the link for that one.

    3) Just because something is held in common with Gnostics doesn’t mean it’s wrong. For instance, ancient pagans had priests that used incense. Judaism had priests that used incense. Does this mean Judaism was pagan? Pagans believed that their gods would impregnate women and have children. Is Christianity pagan because Christ is the Son of God born from a woman? God forbid. Protestants also LOVE to use this quote – St. Irenaues: “They (the gnostics) also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.” Against Heresies, 1.25.6

    Does this quote mean that holy icons are gnostic? Of course not. Additionally, the gnostic heretic Marcion clearly delineated a New Testament canon of Scripture, forcing the Church to do the same. Is the establishing of a scriptural canon a gnostic practice? Of course not. If you read the links I gave you then you have seen all the Fathers of the Church (East and West) that believe in tollhouses or something similar. You’ve also seen tollhouses in the Menaion with St. Basil the New. To believe Kurt Rudolph is to believe that some the greatest Church Fathers are greatly influenced by a gnostic view of the afterlife. I’ll take the Fathers over the scholars.

  9. I’ve been reading this here:

    “Are you aware that there are other sections in the toll house dream of Gregory of Thrace which were all edited out of the Greek text when it came to be translated into Russian? In fact the major part of the text was sliced off by the Russians because of its blasphemy, heresy and sheer craziness!

    Three quarters of the “Life of the Elder Basil the New” is filled with the bizarre visions seen by Gregory. Also the verbal portrait of Saint Basil is anomalous, describing many of his strange, irrational actions and words. Saint Theodora, Basil’s servant, also makes statements contrary to Church doctrine. This work was rejected and condemned by the Byzantine Church because of its many errors and delusions, notably about the Second Coming, and its obvious Bogomil/Paulician influence. It entered Orthodoxy through the Russian Church-which has listed Basil and Theodora among the Saints-but only after *two-thirds* of the narrative was deleted and the rest reworked in order to make it less objectionable. Conclusively, this novel description of the toll-houses has no legitimate Church source.

    The narrative of Saint Theodora speaks of an “excess of virtues” which Saint Basil gives somehow to Theodora and Gregory to pay off and expunge their sins, even though many were not confessed. This not only introduces the doctrine of meritorious works, but the even more heinous doctrine of “works of supererogation.” On account of this vision, Roman Catholic writers have claimed that the Orthodox Church also teaches the doctrine of purgatory but in a somewhat primitive manner, since it has no pope to distribute the merits more efficiently.

    This narrative written by Gregory abounds in blasphemous content (These sections of the “Life of Basil the New” have been bowdlerised/censored out of the Russian version of the text, so you won’t see them in English translations made from Russian books.) For example, Gregory is rescued from the chasm of death by the recitation of names and formulas with which he has been instructed; then he is anointed with Basil’s grace to become a son of God. Furthermore, Gregory is not sure whether the Christians or Jews are right until he looks upon the actual face of God the Father.

    The text is hopelessly flawed. ”

    http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php?topic=6952.0

  10. William, please read our entire “post-mortem” section. You can freely accept or reject the doctrine. Perhaps the Fathers and the liturgical calendar are in gross error based on the authority of a person on an Internet forum. The matter is for you to judge.

    Hieromonk Seraphim Rose: ‘The account of Theodora’s passage through the tollhouses (Lives of Saints, March 26) the critic calls a “heresy-filled tale” (6:8-9, p. 24) based upon a “hallucination” (7:2, p. 14) of someone who, in Old Testament times, “would have justly been taken out and stoned” because he “was in a state of abject spiritual delusion” (6:6-7, p. 28). (Why the critic should be so angry against Theodora’s account is not clear; it is only one of many similar accounts and teaches nothing different from them—so much so that I saw no need to quote it above in the chapter on the toll-houses.)

    These extreme accusations are personal opinions of the critic which certainly have no evidence behind them. One wonders why he insists on making up his own interpretation of the toll-houses and refuses to understand them as the Church has always understood them; the caricature which he is railing against has never been taught in the Orthodox Church, and one is at a loss to know from what source he has taken his preposterous interpretations.’

    Thanks for commenting.

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