The Person Who Commits Impurity Sins Against His Own Body

by Gregory of Nyssa

Translation by Brother Casimir McCambley, OCSO


     [J.211 & M.489]  The terrible trumpet of the apostolic
proclamation bears witness to many things which pertain to the
[Christian] army of the true religion [eusebeia].  Not only does
it save [M.492] us from sinking into the pit of ruin, it adds the
following precept [from the Apostle Paul], "Flee immorality
[porneia].  Every sin a man commits is outside the body" [1Cor
6.18].  On certain occasions persons expert in war and in drawing
up a line of battle consider it best to engage in battle while at
another time they deem it more convenient to flee.  The example
of warfare can pertain to souls, that is, to the prudent [choice
between] combat and retreat.  Paul is aware of this fact; he both
tactically and skillfully leads his army through each of these
maneuvers.  He exhorts his soldiers to remain steadfast in the
fight saying, "Stand with your loins girded with truth" [Eph
6.14].  He next wisely counsels us to flee battle:  "Flee immo-
rality" [1Cor 6.18].  Should the war of disbelief erupt, we ought
resist it, and if the line of battle threatens us, it is better
to ambush these assaults.  Should the bow of calumny be drawn
[against us], we ought [J. 212] to oppose such falsehood. 
Whenever a form of immorality is cast against us, it is wise to
turn our backs and flee.  Unchastity successfully assails our
eyes which is reason enough to recall the precept, "Flee immoral-

     Another type of impurity exists which we should fear even
more.  Furthermore, there are other forms of sin which seem to
have an existence all their own apart from persons who commit
them, yet they are only realized when we execute them.  For
example, anyone guilty of rape alone suffers the consequences [of
this act].  Jealous persons suffer the depravity of their incli-
nations; those who engage in slanderous talk with naive persons
alone are in danger of falling prey to such behavior, and similar
fashion, anyone who commits the heinous act of murder suffers the
same outcome.  A person who performs an unjust deed reaps the
gain of his unjust actions and experiences injury, whereas
impurity does not know such division [between agent and effect],
nor can the person who performs this deed separate himself from
it; rather, the execution of an impure act causes total defileme-
nt.  When greedy persons afflict someone with injury [J.213] they
themselves do not suffer harm; that is, their bodies do not
experience shame nor are they bothered by it.  Furthermore,
anyone who commits murder does not suffer death, whereas those
who engage in impure activity are not immune to the defilement
which they have brought upon themselves.

     Consider with me the shrewd remarks of Paul:  "Flee
impurity."  Why does he say this?  "Every other sin which a man
commits is outside the body" (That is, any sin committed outside
the body does not corrupt the body's nature, does not bring
ignominy upon its members, nor does it completely defile the
flesh).  The person who engages in impure activity sins against
his own body yet remains unharmed, an act far different from
murder [M.493].  In this case the impurity is his alone since he
has brought shame upon himself.  To feed himself the thief steals
while the fornicator disgraces his own body.  Thought of gain
moves one to plunder while impurity damages the body's majesty. 
Another passion, envy, causes harm while the unchaste person is
solely responsible for his self-induced disgrace.  What is this
more shameful, weighty burden of impurity?  All servility is
unbecoming (for shameful deeds affect the soul's health), and the
impure slave of sin is even more offensive.  The fornicator
brings a heap of filth upon [J.214] himself and is responsible
for his unclean actions.  Is it not frightening to see how he
wallows in mud, becomes deformed, and to observe how his body
resembles rags?  How, then, do these rags differ from impurity? 
Having severed his body from the true religion, he is corrupted
his body from the true religion, he is corrupted daily; he is
cast aside to be trampled upon by demons as a useless rag of sin.

The devil thus stamps him with his own corruption.

     The wicked character of an impure person can be traced to
the mind and for this reason it is not exposed to view.  However,
the following examples reveal its nature:  escaping within
houses, performance of offensive deeds, showing arrogance towards
one's neighbors, ignominy before enemies, shameless behavior
towards relatives, being cursed in the eyes of one's family
members, having a lack of courage towards one's parents, making
one's household a public display, and exposing oneself for
ridicule before neighbors.  Such impurity also consists in
rejection by one's wife, being suspect by a spouse, a father
hated by his children, having one's counsel scorned, showing an
ungrateful and contemptible attitude, being an ungrateful peti-
tioner, perceived immediately as an offensive person, experi-
encing more desolation than a sick person, and remaining unhon-
ored in death.  Paul sees impurity as the mother of a multitude
of such evils and exhorts us to a more victorious flight.  He
thus rightly counsels us flee saying, "Flee immorality."

     We are now reminded of the youth [Joseph] who soberly
rejected the impurity of the Egyptian woman when he demonstrated
valor by shunning her.  This youth was subject to many tempta-
tions such as pleasure so characteristic of his age, the yoke of
slavery, the erotic flattery of his mistress, the temptation to
have a licentious relationship and to expose himself to entreat-
ies for illicit behavior.  "One day when Joseph went into the
house [J.215] to do his work and none of the men of the house
were present, the mistress caught him by his garment, saying,
'Lie with me'" [Gen 39.11-12].  The dignity of temperance is
indeed great because the mistress of the household made herself
the slave of a slave.  While [Joseph] made supplication, [the
mistress] entreated him, "Lie with me."  The arrow of fornication
is indeed fiery, but when the soul's essence is burned, it is not
found because [Joseph's] clothing is dissolved while that part
bound to impurity cries out unashamedly, "Lie with me."  The
hunger to commit fornication bellows out, however, the ears of
modesty obstruct it.  This voice cries out, "Lie with me." 
Nevertheless, the youth's temperance retorts, "Watch with me" [Mt
26.38], a statement which manifests vigilance through deeds. 
Such attentiveness does not yield to blandishments nor does the
mind acquiesce to such supplications; the watchfulness of re-
straint does not doze off, is not sapped by such importunate
pleas, does not become captive to the adornments of form, and is
not broken by amorous flattery.  Instead, the mistress' [M.496]
voice flatters with even sharper persuasions, "Lie with me."

     The devil assumes the disguise of a groomsman, puts on a
harlot's clothing and closely identifies himself with it.  At the
same time he does not know that he is fighting with an athlete
experienced in chastity who strips him of his clothing."  He [Jo-
seph] left his garment in her hand and fled and left the house"
[Gn 39.12].  How much holier for him to be without these gar-
ments!  What, then, is this rage of the licentious Egyptian
woman?  She vented her wrath against Joseph [J.216] and running
to her husband she exclaimed, "He has brought among us a Hebrew
to insult us.  He said to me, your wife, who now chastely guarded
your bed, 'I will lie with you.'  After I cried out with a loud
voice, he left his garment with me and fled and left the house" 
[Gn 39.14-15].  Once again Joseph was wrongly accused by a
garment.  First [Joseph's] brothers took his garment which
falsely accused him as if a wild beast had devoured him [Gn
37.31-32].  Now a garment has charged him with fornication.  The
Lord's voice concurs with Joseph here:  "They parted my garments
among them and for my clothing they cast lots" [Ps 22.18, Jn
19.24].  Such words are sweet for persons trained in chastity as
uttered by the mouth of temperance [Christ] but are difficult for
the flesh in its weakness.  How just is God's favor towards
Joseph!  God did not regard his earlier trials but revealed the
future through dreams, a means by which he taught that long ago
he had prepared glory for his just ones.  God allowed the youth
to undergo temptations and shut the voices of cowardly persons. 
If he did not allow Joseph to undergo temptation, these cowards
would have attributed such trials as coming from a blind man. 
Joseph ruled over the Egyptians, that is, an adolescent governed
barbarians.  How does this manifest virtue?  For what purpose did
he exercise virtue?  In order that no one might claim that these
experiences happened to a just man, God [J.217] allowed him to be
tempted.  In this fashion [Joseph] bore witness as a just man and
shut the mouth of cowards.

     Let us therefore turn our attention from the spears of that
unchaste form, close our eyes to licentiousness, allow the
disorders of pleasantries mock us, let temperance guard our
flesh, and have purity dwell within our bodily members.  Let us
crush any thoughts fond of evil, illumine our deeds with rays of
light, allow our lives to become radiant, guard our bodies as
temples of the indwelling Spirit, and inscribe it with the
fearful inscription as a warning for intemperate persons which
cries out, "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy
him" [1Cor 3.17].

     None of you wishes to be yoked to trivial affairs.  What is
sweeter for a father than to be lovingly united with his sons? 
But since the Word [Christ] summons us to the struggle of piety
[eusebeia], we should run to the arena belonging to the Church
and heed its prayerful assistance.  But let the Church exhort
your charity, guard its discipline, and if any difficulties
arise, we should conquer them by long suffering.  The restraint
of disturbances is not far off.  Do not be disturbed by rumors
nor moved by nonsense; rather, pray with us who are pilgrims in
order that you may be strengthened and that we might say at all
times fortified with God's power, "I can do all things in Christ
who strengthens me" [Phil 4.13], to whom be glory forever and
ever.  Amen.                                          

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