The Democracy of the Dead – John Chrysostom

G.K. Chesterton once said that “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”  

To honor that sentiment and to stave off an easy chronological snobbery, Friday’s post comes straight from the mouths (or pens) of men and women who have died in the faith.

Chrysostom on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 

 “Accordingly, whether we have our requests granted or not, let us persist in asking and render thanks not only when we gain what we ask but also when we fail to.  Failure to gain, you see, when that is what God wants, is not worse than succeeding; we do not know what is to our advantage in this regard in the way he does understand.  The result is, then, that succeeding or failing we ought to give thanks.

Cross by George Wharton JamesWhy are you surprised that we don’t know what is to our advantage?  Paul, a man of such quality and stature judged worthy of ineffable blessings, did not know what was advantageous in his requests: when he saw himself beset with trouble and diverse tribulations, he prayed to be rid of them, not once or twice but many times.  ‘Three times I asked the Lord,’ he says…

‘Three’ means he asked frequently without success.  So let us see how he was affected by it: surely he didn’t take it badly?  He didn’t turn fainthearted, did he?  He didn’t become dispirited, did he?  Not at all.  On the contrary, what?  God said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; my power has its full effect in weakness.’

Not only did he not free him of the troubles afflicting him, but he even allowed him to persevere in them.  True enough; but how does it emerge that he did not take it badly?  Listen to Paul’s own words when he learned what the Lord had decided: ‘I will gladly boast of my weaknesses.’

Not only, he says, do I no longer seek to be rid of them, but I even boast of them with greater satisfaction.  Do you see his grateful spirit?  Do you see his love for God?…

So we ought to yield to the Creator of our nature, and with joy and great relish accept those things that he has decided on and have an eye not to the appearance of events but to the decisions of the Lord.  After all, he who knows better than we what is for our benefit also knows what steps must be taken for our salvation.”

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