The Church Fathers on Hating our Relatives

Jul 20th, 2021 • 7 min

From The Catena Aurea in the St. Luke volume, page 516:

25. And there went great multitudes with Him: and He turned, and said unto them,

26. If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

27. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.

Greg. The mind is kindled, when it hears of heavenly rewards, and already desires to be there, where it hopes to enjoy them without ceasing; but great rewards cannot be reached except by great labours. Therefore it is said, And there went great multitudes with Him: and He turned to them, and said, &c.

Theophyl. For because many of those that accompanied Him followed not with their whole heart, but lukewarmly, He shews what kind of a man His disciple ought to be.

Greg. But it may be asked, how are we bid to hate our parents and our relations in the flesh, who are commanded to love even our enemies? But if we weigh the force of the command we are able to do both, by rightly distinguishing them so as both to love those who are united to us by the bond of the flesh, and whom we acknowledge our relations, and by hating and avoiding not to know those whom we find our enemies in the way of God. For he is as it were loved by hatred, who in his carnal wisdom, pouring into our ears his evil sayings, is not heard.

[Immaculata Library editor’s note:] St. Gregory here does not mean we ought to hate them, but hate the temptations they present to us with e.g. evil words, even if it is a close relation—which is not contrary to sincerely loving whoever it is that tempts us.

Ambrose. For if for thy sake the Lord renounces His own mother, saying, Who is My mother? and who are My brethren? why dost thou deserve to be preferred to thy Lord? But the Lord will have us neither be ignorant of nature, nor be her slaves, but so to submit to nature, that we reverence the Author of nature, and depart not from God out of love to our parents.

[Immaculata Library editor’s note:] By the phrase “so to submit to nature,” St. Ambrose here shows that our love for relatives must be subordinate to the love of God, so that we do not ever love our relatives so much that we willingly offend God on their account, whom God ordinarily desires we should love even more than strangers.

Greg. Now to shew that this hatred towards relations proceeds not from inclination or passion, but from love, our Lord adds, yea, and his own life also. It is plain therefore that a man ought to hate his neighbour, by loving as himself him who hated him. For then we rightly hate our own soul when we indulge not its carnal desires, when we subdue its appetites, and wrestle against its pleasures. That which by being despised is brought to a better condition, is as it were loved by hatred.

[Immaculata Library editor’s note:] St. Gregory’s concept here could be illustrated by the example of a child who, because of love for himself, refuses to indulge in eating an entire chocolate cake, despite his love for the chocolate cake, in order to avoid a stomach ache; thus a “hatred” of his own love of chocolate cake, to preserve his stomach, and his ability to eat only a moderate portion of chocolate cake. Since St. Thomas Aquinas places this directly after St. Ambrose’s point, he seems to be implying that, if we refuse to join our relatives in sin, no matter how close in relation they may be to us, we ultimately do them far more good.

Cyril. But life must not be renounced which both in the body and the soul the blessed Paul also preserved, that yet living in the body he might preach Christ. But when it was necessary to despise life so that he might finish his course, he counts not his life dear unto him.

Greg. How the hatred of life ought to be shewn He declares as follows; Whosoever bears not his cross, &c.

Chrys. He means not that we should place a beam of wood on our shoulders, but that we should ever have death before our eyes. As also Paul died daily and despised death.

Basil. By bearing the cross also he announced the death of his Lord, saying, The world is crucified to me, and I to the world, which we also anticipate at our very baptism, in which our old man is crucified, that the body of sin may be destroyed.

[Immaculata Library editor’s note:] Sts. Gregory, Basil, and Chrysostom here are not being sadistic or melancholy, for our Lord Himself said that he came that we should have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). But rather that by dying to sin and “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1, 9:14), we are more free to live life in the blessed happiness that God intended for us (John 8:34-36, Romans 6:18-22).

Greg. Or because the cross is so called from torturing. In two ways we bear our Lord’s cross, either when by abstinence we afflict our bodies, or when through compassion of our neighbour we think all his necessities our own. But because some exercise abstinence of the flesh not for God’s sake, but for vain-glory, and shew compassion, not spiritually but carnally, it is rightly added, And cometh after Me. For to bear His cross and come after the Lord, is to use abstinence of the flesh, or compassion to our neighbour, from the desire of an eternal gain.

[Immaculata Library editor’s note:] Here St. Gregory explains simply the Church’s constant recommendation for works of penance, which help us to remain in control of ourselves, by subduing the flesh (1 Corinthians 9:26-27), in order to avoid falling into the delusions of the devil (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12) by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-14). (For more on this topic, see the book snippet the exercise of exterior mortification.)

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