Document: Letter 7
Date: 380
Addressee: Justus (Bishops of Lyons?)
English Translation: FC 26.105-115
Summary of Contents: On various debates on Scripture

You make a very good suggestion, brother, that we should devote our correspondence and our conversation at a distance to the interpretation of Heaven’s words, asking me as you did what is signified by that didrachma, a half of which the Hebrew is told to offer for the redemption of his soul. What brings us together so closely as the weaving together of conversation on holy subjects?

A half-didrachma is a drachma. Now, the price of the soul is faith. Faith, therefore, is that lost drachma, which the woman in the Gospel seeks diligently, as we read, lighting a candle and sweeping her house, and after finding it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, bidding them rejoice with her because she has found the drachma which she had lost. Great is the damage to the soul if one has lost the faith or the grace, which he has gained for himself at the price of faith. Therefore, light your lamp: “Your lamp is your eye,” namely, the interior eye of the soul Light the lamp, which feeds upon the oil of the spirit and shines throughout your whole house. Seek the drachma, the redemption of your soul, for, if a man loses this, he is troubled, and if he finds it, he rejoices.

Mercy is also the ransom of the soul, for the saving of a man’s soul is his riches by which, assuredly, mercy is done, gladdening the poor by this expenditure. Therefore, faith and grace and mercy are the ransom of the soul; these are bought by the full payment of a drachma, that is, a large sum. So it is written in the Scriptures that the Lord said to Moses: “When you shall take the sum of the children of Israel according to their number, every one of them shall give a price for souls to the Lord: and there shall be no scourge among them, when they shall be reckoned, And this shall every one give that passes at the naming, half a didrachma according to the standard of the temple. A didrachma has twenty obols. Half a didrachma shall be the tax to the Lord. He that is counted in the number from twenty years and upwards, shall give the tax. The rich man shall not add, and the poor man shall diminish nothing from the half-didrachma. When they begin to give an offering to the Lord and to pray for their souls, the money received from the tax on the children of Israel, you shall receive and deliver unto the uses of the tabernacle of the testimony and it will be a reminder of them before the Lord to be merciful to your souls.”

Was not the offering made, therefore, when a rich man offered more or a poor man less, even though the half-didrachma consisted only of money and not of virtue? So we must realize that the drachma is not a material thing but a spiritual one, which is known to be contributed equally by all.

Finally, in regard to the heavenly food (for heavenly wisdom is food and delightful nourishment, which those in paradise feed upon, the unfailing food of the soul, called by the mouth of God, manna), we read that distribution was made to each soul so that there might be an equal share. They gathered it according to the direction of Moses, both those who gathered much and those who gathered little. Each man measured a gomor and the amount did not abound or remain over and above for him who had gathered much, nor was it less for him who had gathered less. Each one, in accordance with the number of souls which dwelt with him in the tent, gathered a gomor for each that is, a measure of wine as the interpretation goes.

There is a measure of wisdom, too, which harms if it is above measure, because it has been written: “Do not be very wise.” Paul, too, taught that a division of graces is given according to measure, when he says: “Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit, to one the utterance of wisdom, to another the utterance of knowledge, to another the faith of wisdom according to the same Spirit, faith in the same Spirit,” and according to the will of the Spirit this grace is apportioned. It belongs to His justice that He divides; it belongs to His power that He divides according to His will, or because He wishes to give to each what He knows will be of profit.

A gomor is a measure, a measure of wine which gladdens the heart of man. Can anything but a draught of wisdom be the joy of the heart? This is the wine which Wisdom has mixed in the bowl, and offers to us to drink so that we may receive temperance and prudence, which should be carried to our feeling and thoughts and all the movements in this house of ours in such equal measure that we shall know how to abound in all things, to fail in none.

This truth is more fully understood regarding the blood of Christ, for its power is not lessened, is not increased. Whether we partake of a little or whether we drink much, the same measure of redemption is accomplished for all.

The patriarchs are also commanded to eat the Pasch of the Lord, that is, the lamb, that they may eat in accordance with the numbers of souls, not too many, not too few. Some are not to be given more and others less, but in accordance with the number of each. Thus, the strong may not take more, nor the weak less. An equal grace is given to each, redemption is given, a gift is given. There should not be too many persons, either, for then someone may go away deprived of his hope and redemption. There are too many when there are some beyond the number, since the saints are all numbered, and the hairs of their head. The Lord knows who are His. There should not be too few lest by reason of the great amount of grace someone be too weak to receive it.

He teaches all to bring equal devotion and faith to the Pasch of the Lord, that is, to the ‘passage,’ for it is the Pasch when the soul lays away unreasonable passion, but takes up a goodly compassion, that she may share Christ’s passion and await His passage into her, that He may dwell in the soul, and walk with her and become her God. Grace itself is equal in all, but virtue varies in each. Let each person, then, receive grace proportioned to his strength, so that the strong man does not feel need or the weak man a burden.

You have this truth in the Gospel, since the same wages were given to all who worked in the vineyard. Few reach the goal, few the crown. Few say: “There is laid up for me a crown of justice.” The gift of liberality and grace is one thing; the reward of virtue, the remuneration of labor, is another.

The didrachma is our redemption, nay, a half-didrachma. It has redeemed us from death, it has redeemed us from slavery, lest we be subject to the world which we have renounced. Our Lord in the Gospel, therefore, tells Peter to go to the sea, to let down his fishhook and to take the stater he finds in the mouth of a fish and give it to the tax collector for the Lord and himself. This is the didrachma which was demanded according to law. Yet it was not the king’s son who owed it, but the foreigner. For, why should Christ pay to ransom Himself from this world, He who had come to take away the sin of the world? Why should He pay the price of ransom from sin, He who had come down to forgive the sins of all? Why should He redeem Himself from slavery, He who had emptied Himself to give liberty to all? Why should He redeem Himself from death, He who had become incarnate to give the resurrection to all by His death?

Surely, the Redeemer of all had no need of redemption, but, just as He had received circumcision in order to fulfill the Law, and had come to baptism to fulfill justice, so also He did not refuse the payment of the didrachma to the tax collectors, but at once ordered a stater to be given, instead of a didrachma, for Himself and for Peter. He preferred to pay beyond what was required by Law rather than to refuse to give what belonged to the Law. At the same time He showed that the Jews acted contrary to the Law by exacting a didrachma from each man,whereas Moses had prescribed that a half-didrachma should be exacted. Christ, therefore, bade a drachma apiece to be paid in the stater for Himself and for Peter. The tribute of Christ is good since it is paid in a stater, because justice is a stater and justice is above the Law. Besides, “Christ is the consummation of the Law unto justice for everyone who believes.” This stater is found in the mouth of a fish, of that fish which the fishers of men catch, of that Fish which weighs its words so that He may bring forth words tried by fire.

The Jews did not know the stater which they gave to the betrayer. The Law exacts a half-didrachma for the redemption of a soul, and vows this to God, being unable to claim the whole didrachma. One does not find any amount of prayer in a Jew. But the true man is free, the true Hebrew belongs entirely to God everything which he has partakes of this freedom. But whoever refuses freedom, saying: “I love my master and my wife and children, I will not go out free,” has none of God. This refers not only to the Lord but also to the weakness of a man who subjects himself to the world, because he loves the world as his own soul, that is, his noûs, the source of his will. This refers not only to one’s wife but also to the delight one has in the affairs of the house while he cares not for those which are eternal. At his doorway and on his threshold his master punctures the servant’s ear so that he will remember the words by which he chose slavery.

And you, O Christian, do not imitate such a person as this; because it is written for you that if you wish to be perfect you should offer to God not a half-didrachma, but that you should sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Nor should you keep a part of your service for the world; you should deny yourself completely, and take up the cross of the Lord and follow Him.

We know that a half-didrachma is demanded by the Law, because half is kept for the generation of this world that is, for worldly affairs and use in the home and for posterity, to whomever a portion from the inheritance needs to be transmitted. The Lord, therefore, responded to the Pharisees testing Him with that crafty question whether He thought tribute should be given to Caesar: “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin of the tribute.” And they offered Him a denarius on which was the image of Caesar. He then said to them: “Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” showing them how imperfect they were, although they seemed perfect in their own eyes, for they paid their debt to Caesar before they did so to God. Those who are concerned first with this world must first make payment to that which Is of this world. For this reason He also said: “Render,” that is, you yourself, “give back those things which belong to Caesar,” you, in whom the figure and image of Caesar is found. The Hebrew youths Ananias, Azarias, and Misael and Daniel, too, the wise man who did not adore the image of the king, who did not believe it, or accept anything from the king’s table, were not bound to the payment of tribute. They possessed none of the things which are subject to an earthly king. Their imitators, too, whose inheritance is God, do not pay tribute. The Lord therefore says: “Render,” that is, do you yourselves give back, you who have brought forward the image of Caesar, you with whom it is found. But I owe nothing to Caesar because I have no part in this world: “The prince of the world is coming, and in me he has nothing.” Peter owes nothing, My Apostles owe nothing, because they are not of this world although they are in this world. I have sent them into this world but they are no longer of this world, because they arc with me above the world.

Payment is demanded for those things which are of the divine law, not those of Caesar. The perfect man, that is, the preacher of the Gospel, because he had preached more, no longer owed that payment. The Son of God did not owe the tribute, nor did Peter owe tribute, who had been admitted by grace to adoption by the Father. “But that we may not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the fish that comes up. And opening its mouth you will find a stater; take that and give it to them for me and for you.” O great mysteries! He gives a half-didrachma because the Law bade Him, and He did not refuse what is of the Law, as He was born of a woman, born under the Law. I have said “He was born” according to the Incarnation, but “of a woman” according to sex. Womankind is the sex, virgin is the species; the sex has to do with nature, a virgin with integrity. In so far as He was born of a woman, that is, in a body, He came under the Law. And so He ordered the didrachma to be paid for Himself and Peter because they were both born under the Law. He bids it to be paid according to the Law so that He might redeem those who were under the Law.

Nevertheless, He orders a stater to be given, clamping shut their mouths so that out of much talking they may not admit their sin. And He bids that to be given which was found in a fish’s mouth so that they might know the Word. They exacted what was of the Law; why did they not know what was of the Law? They ought not to have been ignorant of the Word of God, because it was written: “The Word is near on your lips and in your heart.” Therefore, a whole didrachma is paid to God by Him who kept nothing for this world. Justice is paid to God, which is soberness of the mind; guarded speech is paid to God, which is moderation in speech: “With the heart a man believes unto justice, and with the mouth profession of faith is made unto salvation.”

Moreover, a drachma can be interpreted as the Old Testament, a didrachma as the price of both Testaments. Because, according to the Law, each one was redeemed by the Law, but he who is redeemed according to the Gospel pays a drachma according to the Law, he is redeemed by the blood of Christ according to grace, having a double redemption, both of vow and of blood. Faith alone is not sufficient for perfection unless one also obtains the grace of baptism and, being redeemed, receives the blood of Christ. For this reason, the drachma which is paid to God is good.

A drachma is not a denarius, but something different. On a denarius there is the image of Caesar; on a drachma, the image of God. It is the image of the one God for the imitation of this one. It begins from One and is diffused endlessly. And later, from the Infinite, all things return to this One, as to their end, because God is both the beginning and end of all. Thus mathematicians do not call a unit “a number” but the “element” of a number. We said this, too, since it has been written: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” and “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one God.”

You, therefore, be one and the same as the image of God, not sober today but drunk tomorrow; today peaceable, on the morrow litigious; today virtuous, on the morrow incontinent. Each one is changed by variation of his habits and becomes someone else; in this condition he is not recognized for what he was, and he begins to be what he was not, not his genuine self. It is a serious matter to be changed for the worse. Be like the image on the drachma, unchangeable, keeping the same habits every day. When you see the drachma, see the image; when you see the Law, see Christ, the image of God, in the Law. And because He Himself is the image of the invisible and incorruptible God, let Him shine for you as in the mirror of the Law. Confess Him in the Law that you may acknowledge Him in the Gospel. If you have known Him through His commands, acknowledge Him in His works.

Farewell, and if you think it was not fruitless to question me about the didrachma, and if you need anything later on, do not hesitate to call on me.

Translation from FC 26.105-115, adapted by SMT

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