The First Book of Homilies - Homily 12 Against Strife and Contention Good Christian people, today I want to talk about how unprofitable shameful and dishonest contention, strife, and arguing are. I want you to see it, as if it were on a table painted before your eyes, so the evil and deformity will lead you to a gut level reaction to rise against it, and to detest and abhor the sin, which is much to be hated for it is pernicious and hurtful to all. Among all the kinds of contention, none is more hurtful than contention in matters of religion. Saint Paul says “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2.23-24). This Contention and strife was in Saint Paul's time among the Corinthians, and today among us. For too many are on the Ale-benches or other places, delighting to set forth certain questions, not pertaining to edification, as to vain glory, and showing their own cleverness, to drunk to reason, so when neither part will give place to the other, they fall to chiding and contention, sometimes from trash talk to brawling. Saint Paul could live with words of discord or dissention among the Corinthians, saying, “‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human? (1 Corinthians 3.4): What would Paul say, if he heard the contentious words which now are almost in everyone’s mouth? They are pharisees, they are true believers, they born again, they are of the old faith, they are separated brethren, they are good catholics, they are papists, they are heretics. How the Church is divided? How are the cities so cut and mangled? How is the coat of Christ, once without seam, now rent and torn? O mystical Body of Christ, where is that holy and happy unity, outside of which we are not in Christ? If one member be pulled from another, where is the body? If the body be drawn from the head, where is the life of the body? We cannot be joined to Christ our head, except we be glued with concord and charity one to another. For those who are not of this unity, are not of Christ’s Church, a congregation or unity together, and not a division. Saint Paul says, “For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” (1 Corinthians 3.3). And Saint James says, “if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth” (James 3.14). Where contention is, there is no steadfastness, and all evil deeds. And why do we not hear Saint Paul saying, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1.10). If his desire be reasonable and honest, why don’t we do it? If his request is for our benefit, why do we refuse? And if we prefer not to hear his appeal, let us hear his exhortation, where he says, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4.1-5). He says there is but one body, of the which one can be no lively member, and at variance with the other members. There is one Spirit who joins and knits all things in one. And how can this one Spirit reign in us, when we among ourselves are divided? There is but one faith, so how can we then say, ‘they are of the old faith’, or ‘they are of the new faith’? There is one Baptism, so all who are Baptized are one? Contention causes division so it ought not be among Christians. One Faith and one Baptism joins joins us in unity. But if we fight Saint Paul's request and exhortation, at the least let us regard his earnest entreating, in the which he earnestly charges us and in this way, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2.1-3). Who has any bowels of pity, who will not be moved with these clear words? Whose heart is so set in stone, that the sword of these words, sharper than any two edged sword, may not cut and break asunder? So let us endeavour ourselves to fulfil Saint Paul's joy, here in this place, which shall be at length to our great joy in another place. How We Should Read the Scripture. Let us read Scripture, so we may live better rather than become more contentious debaters. If any thing be necessary to be taught, reasoned, or disputed, let us do it with all meekness, softly with mercy. If any thing shall chance to be said wrong, let one bear anothers frailty. If we are at fault, let us amend, rather than defend what is spoken amiss, lest we fall by contention from foolish error to obstinate heresy. For it is better to give place meekly, than to win the victory with a breach of charity, which happens when one defends their own opinion obstinately. If we are Christian, why do we not follow Christ, who says, “learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11.29)? A disciple must learn the lesson of his teacher, and a servant must obey the commandment of his master. St James says “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3.13-17). It is easy to be obedient, not not resenting to learn, and to give place to those who teach better for reform. For there will never be an end of striving and contention, if we contend who in contention is the boss, and has the over hand. We shall heap error on error, if we continue to defend that obstinately, that which was spoken unadvisedly. The truth is, stiffness in maintaining an opinion, breeds contention, brawling and chiding, which is a very nasty vice and destroys common peace and quietness. It stands between two persons or parties, for nobody commonly scolds themselves. Two most detestable vices: one is picking quarrels, with sharp and contentious words: the other stands in contrary answers, and multiplying evil words again. The first is so abominable, that Saint Paul says, “now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one” ( 1 Corinthians 5.11). Against Quarrel Picking. Consider how Saint Paul numbers an abuser, a brawler, or a picker of quarrels, among thieves and idolaters, and often there less damage by a thief, than by a railing tongue: for the one takes away one’s good name, the other takes only goods, which are of much less value and worth than a good name. A thief hurts but the one from whom he steals: but the evil tongue, troubles the whole town, where they live, and sometimes the whole country. And a railing tongue is such a contagious pestilence that Saint Paul wills Christians to avoid the company of such, and neither to eat nor drink with them (1 Corinthians 5.11). Paul says a Christian woman should not forsake her husband, although he is an infidel, or that a Christian servant should not depart from his master, who is an infidel and a heathen, and so allows a Christian man to keep company with an infidel: yet he forbids us to eat or drink with an abuser, or quarrel picker. In the first letter to the Corinthians, he says, “Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6.9-10). It must needs be a great fault, that moves and causes a father to disinherit his natural son. How can it be otherwise, but that this cursed talk is a most damnable sin, which causes God our most merciful and loving Father, to deprive us of his most blessed kingdom of heaven? Against Contrary Answering. Another sin is in exchanging taunt for taunt with another. Christ says “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5.39, 44-45). In this doctrine of Christ agrees with the teaching of St. Paul, chosen vessel of God, who exhorts us, saying, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12.14, 17-18).