‘For we have been set free by the might of Christ, and delivered from those bitter and iniquitous beings, who in old time had the dominion over us”

THE prophet Habakkuk foresaw the glory of the Saviour, and, overcome by His wonderful deeds, he offered up praises unto Him, saying: “O Lord, I have heard Thy hearing, and been afraid: I have considered Thy doings, and been astonished.” For of which of the deeds wrought by our common Saviour Christ can any one say, that it is not worthy of all admiration? which of them is not great, and highly to be praised, and a proof of His godlike authority? And this we can very clearly see in what has been here read to us from the evangelic Scriptures. Let us behold, then, the tyranny of the enemy shaken by Christ, and the earth set free from the wickedness of demons: let us see the heads of the serpent bruised by Him, and the swarm of venomous reptiles driven away overpowered and in terror: and those who in old time had been full of cunning and audacity; who had held subject to their sway all that lies beneath the heavens; who had prided themselves upon their temples of vast cost, and on their beautifully sculptured altars; who had been honoured with sacrifices; and crowned with universal praises; fall from their former glory, and as though retaining sovereignty over no one single man, beg for a herd of swine! A very plain proof is this of the unexpected misery that had befallen them, and of their being broken utterly.

But no more: for I perceive that in my discourse I have taken a leap, as it were, from what we began with, and have hurried to the latter part of the lesson. Come, therefore, that, like a fleet and strong-limbed horse, we may as with a bridle, turn it back to the beginning. For the Saviour, in company with the holy disciples, had landed in the country of the Gerasenes; and immediately a man met them, in whom dwelt many unclean spirits: and he was void of mind and understanding, and in no respect different from those already dead, and laid in the earth: or rather, perhaps, even in a more miserable state. For they, carefully wrapped in their grave-clothes, are laid in the earth, like one on his mother’s bosom: but he, in great misery and nakedness, wandering among the graves of the dead, was in utter wretchedness, leading a disgraceful and ignominious life: and so was a proof of the cruelty of the demons, and a plain demonstration of their impurity. And besides this, it is a charge and accusation against them of hatred unto mankind: for they would have no man whatsoever upon earth sober, but wish them like one intoxicated, and crazed, to know nothing to their profit, but be left in ignorance even of Him Who is the Maker of all. For of whomsoever they have possession, and have subjected to their power, him at once they make an example of great misery, deprived of every blessing, and destitute of all sobriety, and bereft moreover entirely even of reason itself.

But why, say some, have they possession of men? To such, then, as wish to have this explained, I answer, that the reason of these things is very deep: for so somewhere God is addressed by one of His saints, “Thy judgments are a vast abyss.” But as long as we bear this in mind, we shall perchance not shoot beside the mark. The God of all, then, purposely permits some to fall into their power, not so much that they may suffer, as that we may learn by their example in what way the demons treat us, and so may avoid the wish of being subject to them. For by the suffering of one, many are edified.

But the Gerasene, or rather the herd of demons lying concealed within him, fell down before Christ’s feet, saying, “What is there between me and Thee, Jesus, Son of God Most High? I beseech Thee, torment me not.'” Here observe, I pray, the mixture of fear with great audacity, and overweening pride: and that the words which he is forced, as it were, to ejaculate, are coupled with inflated haughtiness! For it is a proof of the pride of the enemy, that he ventures to say, “What is there between me and Thee, Jesus, Son of God Most High? Thou knowest, then, for certain, that He is the Son of God Most High: thou therefore confessest that He is also God, and Lord of heaven and earth, and of all things therein: and how, then, having usurped that which is not thine, or rather that which is His, and assumed to thyself a glory which in no possible way is thy right:—for thou claimedst to be worshipped:—didst thou affirm that He had nothing to do with thee, Whom, as far as thy endeavours went, thou causedst to be expelled from that dignity which most fitly is His alone? All men upon earth are His; and these thou wickedly corruptedst, removing them far from the knowledge of Him Who truly is the Lord and Maker of all, and plungedst them into the mire of sin, making them thy worshippers:—and afterwards dost thou say, “What is there between me and Thee?” What earthly king would endure to have those placed under his sceptre harrassed by barbarians? Or what shepherd is so unfeeling and indifferent, as when savage beasts attack his flocks, to take no heed of the calamity, nor endeavour to aid his sheep? Confess, even though against thy will, who thou art, and to Whom thou speakest. Utter words such as befit thee: such namely as, “I pray Thee, torment me not.” “For He had commanded, it says, the spirit to go out of the man.”

Observe, I pray again, the incomparable majesty of Him Who transcends all, even of Christ. With irresistible might and unequalled authority He crushes Satan by simply willing that so it should be. He does not permit him to venture to give one look of opposition to His commands. Fire and flames unto him was Christ’s will: so that it is true as the blessed Psalmist said, that “the hills melted like wax before the face of God.” And again elsewhere, “Touch the hills, and they shall smoke.” For he compares to the hills those high and boastful powers of wickedness; which nevertheless, as though in contact with fire, melt like wax before the might and sovereignty of our Saviour. And besides this they smoke: now smoke is an indication of tire about to burst into a blaze; and this it is the lot of the impure spirits to suffer.

But Christ asked him, and commanded him to tell, What was his name. And he said, “Legion, because that many devils had entered into him.” Did Christ then ask because He did not know it, and like one of us, wished to learn it as something that had escaped Him? But how is it not perfectly absurd for us to say or imagine any thing of the kind? For as being God, “He knoweth all things, and searcheth the hearts and reins.” He asked therefore for the plan of salvation’s sake, that we might learn that a great multitude of devils shared the one soul of the man, engendering in him a wretched and impure madness. For he was their work, and they indeed are “wise to do evil,” as the Scripture saith, but to do “good they have no knowledge.”

As therefore the Psalmist said, “let us keep the feast with flowers.” And “Let all the people clap their hands.” For let us bear in mind what was the character of our enemies; and who were those princes of all beneath the heavens before the coining of our Saviour: bitter were they, impure, murderers, and full of all immorality. But Christ setteth us free from the hatred of these noxious beings. Let us therefore with exultation and gladness in our great joy exclaim, “We will cut asunder their cords, and cast away their yoke from us.” For we have been set free, as I said, by the might of Christ, and delivered from those bitter and iniquitous beings, who in old time had the dominion over us.

The herd then of impure spirits asked for a herd—worthy of and like itself—of swine! And Christ purposely gave them leave, though He well knew what they would do. And I can imagine some one saying, Why did He grant their request? To which we answer, That He gave them the power, in order that this, like all His other conduct, might be a means of benefit to us, and inspire us with the hope of safety. But perhaps thou wilt say, How, and in what manner? Listen therefore. They ask for power over swine: plainly as something which they do not possess. For what possible doubt can there be, that they would not have asked it, if it had been in their power to take it without hindrance? But those who have no power over things thus trifling and valueless, how can they injure any one of those whom Christ has scaled, and who place their hope on Him? Comfort therefore thy heart: for perhaps thou wast terrified at hearing that a crowd of wicked spirits dwelt in one man, and made him wander among the graves of the dead in shame and nakedness, and bereft of mind and understanding. Inasmuch as thou too art a man exposed to temptations, thou fearedst a misery thus bitter and unendurable, should Satan attack thee. Rouse therefore thy heart to confidence: do not suppose that any such thing can happen while Christ surrounds us with protection and love. It is certain that they possess no power even over swine. So great is the providence which the Almighty Governor of our affairs deigns to bestow on human things. For He even said to the holy apostles, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them falleth to the ground without your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” For if He bestow His protection upon things thus trifling and valueless, how will He not deem us worthy of all regard, for whose sake He Who by nature is God, even became man, and endured the contumelies of the Jews? Away therefore with fear: for God aids, and encircles with the armour of His good pleasure those whose wish it is to live for Him, and who seek to perform those things that are pleasing in His sight.

And this too we may learn, from what befel the herd of swine, that wicked demons are cruel, and mischievous, and hurtful, and treacherous to those who are in their power.

This the fact clearly proves, that they hurried the swine over a precipice and drowned them in the waters. Christ therefore granted their request, that we might learn from what happened, that their disposition is ruthless and bestial, incapable of being softened, and solely intent on doing evil to those whom they can get into their power.

If therefore there be any one among us wanton and swinish, filth-loving and impure, and willingly contaminated with the abominations of sin, such a one by God’s permission, falls into their power, and sinks into the abyss of perdition. But it can never happen to those who love Christ, to become subject unto them: nor to us, as long as we walk in His footsteps, and, avoiding negligence in the performance of what is right, desire those things which are honourable, and belong to that virtuous and laudable conversation, which Christ has marked out for us by the precepts of the Gospel: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.

St Cyril of Alexandria

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