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Chrysostom on the New Heaven and the New Earth

Last week I posted on Augustine on the new heaven and new earth. This week, here is something similar from John Chrysostom, one of Calvin’s favorite commentators. What follows1 is from his fourteenth Homily on Romans–in particular, his comments on Rom. 8:19-21.

It will be evident that his position is similar to what we observed in Augustine. The new heaven and the new earth are a transmutation and purification of this world, the corruption of which, Chrysostom is explicit, is due not to some inherent defect or foreordained destruction, but to man’s sin. As man is purged, renewed, and made incorruptible, so will the world be. It is crucial to note that Chrysostom takes this position on the transformation of this world not because he is a sort of mystagogical speculationist nor because he is a misty-eyed social gospeller. He takes this position because of the logic of the texts he is treating. He pays close attention to the argumentative and rhetorical structure of, e.g., Romans 8 and 2 Peter 3, and these are the conclusions he comes to.

Chrysostom on Romans 8:19-21

Ver. 19, 20. For the earnest expectation of the creation waits, he says, for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same in hope.

And the meaning is something of this kind. The creation itself is in the midst of its pangs, waiting for and expecting these good things whereof we have just now spoken. For earnest expectation (ἀ ποκαραδοκία, looking out) implies expecting intensely. And so his discourse becomes more emphatic, and he personifies this whole world as the prophets also do, when they introduce the floods clapping their hands, and little hills leaping, and mountains skipping, not that we are to fancy them alive, or ascribe any reasoning power to them, but that we may learn the greatness of the blessings, so great as to reach even to things without sense also. The very same thing they do many times also in the case of afflicting things, since they bring in the vine lamenting, and the wine too, and the mountains, and the boardings of the Temple howling, and in this case too it is that we may understand the extremity of the evils. It is then in imitation of these that the Apostle makes a living person of the creature here, and says that it groans and travails: not that he heard any groan conveyed from the earth and heaven to him, but that he might show the exceeding greatness of the good things to come; and the desire of freedom from the ills which now pervaded them. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same. What is the meaning of, the creation was made subject to vanity? Why that it became corruptible. For what cause, and on what account? On account of you, O man. For since you have taken a body mortal and liable to suffering, the earth too has received a curse, and brought forth thorns and thistles. But that the heaven, when it is waxen old along with the earth, is to change afterwards to a better portion (λἥξιν v. p. 384) hear from the Prophet in his wordsYou, O Lord, from the beginning hast founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but you shall endure; and they all shall grow old like a garment, and You shall fold them up like a cloak, and they shall be changed. Psalm 102:25-26 Isaiah too declares the same, when he says, Look to the heaven above, and upon the earth beneath, for the heavens are as a firmament of smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall perish in like manner. Isaiah 51:6. Now you see in what sense the creation is in bondage to vanity, and how it is to be freed from the ruined state. For the one says, You shall fold them up as a garment, and they shall be changed; and Isaiah says, and they that dwell therein shall perish in like manner, not of course meaning an utter perishing. For neither do they that dwell therein, mankind, that is, undergo such an one, but a temporary one, and through it they are changed into an incorruptible 1 Corinthians 15:53 state, and so therefore will the creature be. And all this he showed by the way, by his saying in like manner 2 Peter 3:13, which Paul also says farther on. At present, however, he speaks about the bondage itself, and shows for what reason it became such, and gives ourselves as the cause of it. What then? Was it harshly treated on another’s account? By no means, for it was on my account that it was made. What wrong then is done it, which was made for my sake, when it suffers these things for my correction? Or, indeed, one has no need to moot the question of right and wrong at all in the case of things void of soul and feeling. But Paul, since he had made it a living person, makes use of none of these topics I have mentioned, but another kind of language, as desiring to comfort the hearer with the utmost advantage. And of what kind is this? What have you to say? He means. It was evil intreated for your sake, and became corruptible; yet it has had no wrong done it. For incorruptible will it be for your sake again. This then is the meaning of in hope.But when he says, it was not willingly that it was made subject, it is not to show that it is possessed of judgment that he says so, but that you may learn that the whole is brought about by Christ’s care, and this is no achievement of its own. And now say in what hope?

Ver. 21That the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption.

Now what is this creation? Not yourself alone, but that also which is your inferior, and partakes not of reason or sense, this too shall be a sharer in your blessings. For it shall be freed, he says, from the bondage of corruption, that is, it shall no longer be corruptible, but shall go along with the beauty given to your body; just as when this became corruptible, that became corruptible also; so now it is made incorruptible, that also shall follow it too. And to show this he proceeds. (εἰς) Into the glorious liberty of the children of God. That is, because of their liberty. For as a nurse who is bringing up a king’s child, when he has come to his father’s power, does herself enjoy the good things along with him, thus also is the creation, he means. You see how in all respects man takes the lead, and that it is for his sake that all things are made. See how he solaces the struggler, and shows the unspeakable love of God toward man. For why, he would say, do you fret at your temptations? You are suffering for yourself, the creation for you. Nor does he solace only, but also shows what he says to be trustworthy. For if the creation which was made entirely for you is in hope, much more ought thou to be, through whom the creation is to come to the enjoyment of those good things. Thus men (3 manuscripts fathers) also when a son is to appear at his coming to a dignity, clothe even the servants with a brighter garment, to the glory of the son; so will God also clothe the creature with incorruption for the glorious liberty of the children.

  1. The translation is that found in the NPNF series.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.