Anthony_Sermons - (THE REGENERATION OF BAPTISM)
5. Christ’s Ascension: No man hath ascended (Jn 3,13). Because we intend to speak more fully about the Lord’s Ascension in a following sermon, we will here treat the matter briefly.
‘Heaven’ means the height of the divinity, regarding which Lucifer said (in Is 14):
I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne to the north,
and I will be like the most High. (cf. Is 14,13-14)
Since Lucifer was established in the empyrean, there was no higher heaven to which he might ascend, but he meant by heaven the height of the divinity, to which he desired to ascend so as to be like to the most High. Here, too, heaven can be understood suitably in the same sense in which it was taken there. No man, not any at all, however holy, even if he was sanctified from the womb, has gone up to the sublimity of the Godhead, so as to be God; apart from him who came down from heaven (the height of the divinity) in order to be man- that is, the Son of man, who is in heaven (cf. Jn 3,13), remaining God. He did not come down from heaven in such wise that he did not remain in heaven, because he did not become man in such wise that he ceased to be God, but he was ‘both rich and poor together’ (Ps 48,3), God and man; begotten of God before all ages, man born of man in this world. Something similar is found in the Psalm, too:
His going out is from the end of heaven, etc. (Ps 18,7)
Note that it is one thing to ascend, another to be carried up. He who ‘ascends’, goes up by his own power; he who is carried up, is carried by another’s power. Christ ascended into heaven by his own power, all others were carried up by the ministry of angels. Thus it is said that ‘Enoch was translated’ (cf. Si 44,16), that ‘Elias was taken up in a chariot of fire’ (Si 48,9), and as is sung by the Church, "Michael comes with a multitude of angels, to lead souls into the paradise of rejoicing."3
6. Morally. ‘Heaven’ is the height of contemplation, or the excellence of holy conversation. Deuteronomy 11 says of it:
The land which thou goest to possess is not like the land of Egypt, from whence thou camest out: where, when the seed is sown, waters brought in to water it alter the manner of gardens. But it is a land of hills and plains, expecting rain from heaven, and the Lord thy God doth always visit it: and his eyes are on it from the beginning of the year unto the end thereof. (Dt 11,10)
The land of Egypt is the world or the flesh, whose waters are riches and pleasures, with which it is watered like a garden (meaning worldly pomp or carnal lust). Isaiah 1 says of it:
When you shall be as an oak with the leaves falling off and as a garden without water. (Is 1,30)
In the hour of death, the leaves of riches fall off, and the water of pleasure dries up, and then the unhappy sinner is left naked and dry. The land of penitence is not like that, to which he who goes out from the land of Egypt should enter, to possess it. Penitence is ‘hilly’, because it is laborious to enter, but ‘of plains’, because wide and flat as one goes
on. Any religious life is ‘hilly’ to begin with, because its ascent is difficult, especially to those without experience, but ‘plain’ as it broadens out in the course of time. This land- not of Egypt but of heaven, that is, of the height of contemplation or holy conversation- expects the rain of devotion, consolation and tears of compunction, with which the Lord visits it and waters it.
And note the word ‘expects’, referring to the great desire of the penitent, or of religious life, which should always expect consolation either from contemplation, or from preaching, or from the company of a just man. Upon this land are the eyes of the Lord, the regard of divine grace from the beginning of grace until the last dusty end. In this heaven is the son of man, a worm, a humble person, who reckons himself a worm and a son of a worm. As Job 25 says:
Man is rottenness, and the son of man a worm, (Jb 25,6)
meaning rottenness from rottenness. The humble man reckons himself ‘rottenness’, and so says with David (in 1R 24):
After whom dost thou come out, O king of Israel? After whom dost thou pursue?
After a dead dog? After a flea? (1S 24,15)
This man is such that he is in the aforesaid heaven by purity of mind; comes down from heaven in compassion for his neighbour, and ascends into heaven in elevation of mind: and no other, because no proud man does:
God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble (Jc 4,6 1P 5,5). Amen.
7. His Passion: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert (Jn 3,14). This is what we read in the book of Numbers 21: The Lord sent among the people fiery serpents (Nb 21,6), because they murmured. A little later, the Lord said to Moses:
Make a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign:
whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live. (Nb 21,8)
The brazen serpent is Christ, God and man. Bronze, which does not rust away even in a very great period of time, is his divinity; the serpent represents his humanity, which was lifted up on the tree of the Cross as a sign of our salvation. Let us lift up our eyes, then, and let us look on Jesus, the author of salvation (cf. He 12,2). Let us consider our Lord hanging on the Cross, fixed with nails. But, alas! As Moses says in Deuteronomy 28:
Thy life shall be hanging before thee; neither shall thou trust thy life. (Dt 28,66)
He does not say ‘living’, but ‘hanging’. What is dearer to a man than his life? The life of the body is the soul, the life of the soul is Christ. Well then, your life is hanging: why do you not suffer and feel compassion?
If he is your life (as indeed he is), how can you contain yourself further, ‘ready, with Peter and Thomas, even to go to prison and undergo death together with him’ (cf. Lc 22,33)? He hangs before you, so as to invite your compassion for him, as it says in Lamentations 1:
0 all ye that pass by the way, attend,
and see if there is any sorrow like to my sorrow. (Lm 1,12)
Truly, there is no sorrow like his sorrow! Those he redeemed with such great sorrow, will he so easily let slip? His Passion was sufficient for the redemption of all. But behold! Almost all are heading for damnation. What sorrow is as great as his? Almost no-one attends or recognises it. And therefore we should greatly fear lest he say (as he did in the beginning), It repenteth me that I have made them (Gn 6,7), as though to say now,
"It repenteth me that I have redeemed them." If someone had laboured hard all the year in his field or vineyard, and got no fruit from it, would he not be sorry? Would he not regret having laboured? He himself says in Isaiah 5:
What is there that I ought to do more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it? Was it that I looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it hath brought forth wild grapes? (Is 5,4)
1 looked that he should do judgement (penance), and behold, iniquity:
and to do justice (to his neighbour), and, behold, a cry! (Is 5,7)
See what fruit the cursed vine, that is to be torn up by the roots and burned on the fire, bears its owner. They do not merely act wickedly before God, but they cry out openly before their neighbour- that is, they sin publicly.
So, thy life shall be hanging before thee, as you look at yourself in it as in a mirror. There you can recognise how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine could cure, except the blood of the Son of God. If you have looked well, you will have been able to recognise how precious and excellent you are, for whom such priceless blood was shed. No man can better understand his own worth, than in the mirror of the Cross, which shows you how you should bring low your pride, mortify your unruly flesh, pray to the
Father for those who persecute you, and commend your spirit into his hands. Yet there happens to us as James 1 says:
If a man be hearer of the word and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in glass. For he beheld himself and went his way and presently forgot what manner of man he was, (Jc 1,23-24)
as he saw himself to be there. So we, too, gaze at the Crucified, in whom we see the image of our redemption, and in thinking of him for a little while (a very little while), perhaps we sorrow. But straightaway, as soon as we turn our eyes, we are changed in heart and turn to laughter. But if we feel the bites of the fiery serpents (the temptations of the devil and the wounds of our sins), let is fix our eyes on the brazen serpent, that we may live.
But neither shall thou trust thy life, he says, that tells you that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting (Jn 3,15). To see and to believe are the same thing, for as much as you believe, so much you see. Trust your life, then, with a living faith, that you may live with Life himself for ever and ever. Amen.
8. The tree hath brought forth its fruit: the fig-tree and the vine have yielded their strength.
This text comes from Joel 2 (Jl 2,22). Of this tree, Wisdom 10 says:
When water destroyed the earth, Wisdom healed it again, directing the course of the just by contemptible wood. (Sg 10,4)
The ‘contemptible wood’ is the wood of the Cross, for:
Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. (Ga 3,13 cf. Dt Dt 21 Dt Dt 23)
There Christ, the Wisdom of God the Father, was despised and derided:
Vah, thou that destroyest the temple; (Mt 27,40)
If he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross. (Mt 27,42)
In this wood and by this wood the world has been saved, which was formerly destroyed by the waters of the Flood.
We read in the ‘History of the Greeks’4 that when Adam grew infirm, he sent his son Seth to seek medicine for him. When he came near Paradise, he told the angel who stood guard outside about his father’s sickness. He broke off a branch of the tree whose fruit Adam had eaten against the command, and gave it to Seth, saying, "When this branch bears fruit, your father will be well." This seems to be expressed in the Preface5 which says, "That whence death rose, life should rise again." But when Seth returned, he found his father dead and buried, and planted the branch at his head, which grew into a great tree. When (as some say6) a long time afterwards the Queen of Saba came to the ‘house of the Forest’ (cf. 1R 7,2), she saw it, and when she had returned home she wrote to Solomon (having feared to tell him at the time) that she had seen a certain tree in the house of the Forest, upon which would be hung one for whose death the Jews would perish and their place and race be destroyed. In fear of this, Solomon hid it in the deepest bowels of the earth, where afterwards the Probatic pool was made (cf. Jn Jn 5 Jn Jn 2). When Christ’s time drew near, the wood floated up, as though to foretell Christ, and from then on the water began to be moved by the descent of an angel. On Good Friday, when the Jews were looking for some wood upon which to nail the Saviour, they found this wood and took it to Calvary, and crucified Christ upon it. Thus, the tree hath brought forth its fruit, by which Adam was healed and saved. This wood was hidden again in the bowels of the earth after the death of Christ, and a long time afterwards it was found, on this day, by blessed Helena, the mother of Constantine. Therefore today’s festival is called the Finding of the Holy Cross. And so, the tree hath brought forth its fruit.
Regarding this, the Bride says in Canticles 2:
I sat down under his shadow, whom I desired: and his fruit was sweet to my palate. (Ct 2,3)
And Lamentations 4 says:
The breath of our mouth, Christ the Lord, is taken in our sins:
to whom we said: Under thy shadow we shall live among the Gentiles. (Lm 4,20)
The heat of the sun is the devil’s suggestion or the temptation of the flesh. When these afflict a man, he should run immediately to the shade of the precious tree and sit there, humble himself there, because there is coolness and a particular remedy for temptation. The devil, who lost the human race upon the Cross, greatly fears to approach the Cross. The prophet says:
I opened my mouth and drew breath. (Ps 118,131)
He who opens his mouth in confession, receives the breath of grace, which is the life of the soul. Christ our Lord is the ‘breath of our mouth’, because ‘in him we live and move and are’ (Ac 17,28). We believe in him with our heart and confess him with our mouth.
He was taken, bound and crucified for our sins. See the breath and sweet fruit of our throat! And if he is so sweet in the confession of his name, and in the taste of contemplation, what will he be in the fruition of his majesty? And if he is so sweet in our misery, what do you think he will be in glory? And we live in his shadow among the Gentiles (various temptations), how gloriously shall we live in the light of his truth?
9. There follows: The fig-tree and the vine have yielded their strength. See what advantage we have derived from the wood of the Cross: the fig-tree (the sweetness of the Lord’s Resurrection) and the vine of sevenfold grace. What great riches and delights! Here the fig-tree, there the ‘new wine, put in new skins (cf. Lc 5,38), and ourselves in the midst! This feast of the Cross comes between Easter and Pentecost. We, who are redeemed by the wood of the Cross, stretch out our hands to both, and are satisfied from both, because the two of them yield us their strength. There is scarcely any fruit sweeter than the fig; and what is sweeter than the clarity, agility, subtlety and immortality of the glorified body? This sweetness gives man strength against the false sweetness of the world and the flesh. The wine of the Holy Spirit, which may cheer the heart of man (cf. Ps 103,15), gives strength that man may rejoice in troubles, and not grow faint. May he who is blessed for ever deign to grant us this strength. Amen.
10. The tree hath brought forth its fruit. Let us see the moral significance of these three, the tree, the fig and the vine.
Note that thee were three ‘woods’ in Paradise, that is, three kinds of tree. The first, those of which Adam might eat; the second, the tree of life; the third, that of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2 says of them:
The Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Gn 2,9)
The first represents honesty of conversation, the second purity of conscience, the third subtlety of judgement. Honest conversation is beautiful and sweet, having nothing disgraceful in it action, nothing out of place in its words, nothing unbecoming in gesture or movement; thus it refreshes our neighbours sight with the colour of its beauty, and delights the palate of his mind. So Canticles 6 says:
Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely as Jerusalem, (Ct 6,3)
(which means ‘peaceful’, and represents honest conversation which pacifies and delights all the members).
Again, purity of conscience is the ‘tree of life’, of which Proverbs 3 says:
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold on her: and he that shall retain her is blessed. (Pr 3,18)
What a paradise! (The word means the place ‘situated beside God’, from ‘para’,
‘beside’). What is nearer to God than a pure conscience? A bride beside her bridegroom? Job says:
Set me beside thee: and let any man’s hand fight against me. (Jb 17,3)
Again, discretion is the ‘tree of the knowledge of god and evil’. This is the true knowledge, the only knowledge worthy of the name, that alone makes knowledgeable,
‘to know how to discern between clean and unclean’ (cf. Lv 10,10), the leprous and the non-leprous, the vile and the precious, the clear and the obscure, virtue and vice. ‘Discretion’ is the analysis of any matter, and the consideration of its implications. Of each of these three trees it is possible to understand the words, The tree hath brought forth its fruit. The tree of honest conversation brings forth the fruit of edification, in your neighbour. The tree of a pure conscience brings forth the fruit of contemplation, in God. The tree of discretion brings forth the fruit of goodness in you yourself.
11. There follows: The fig-tree, renowned for its fecundity, more fertile than other trees, in that it bears fruit two or three times a year, and as soon as one ripens another is formed. The fig-tree is fraternal charity, more fruitful than the other virtues, which brings back the stray, forgives the one who offends, feeds the hungry. Even as it performs one work of mercy, it thinks of another that it may perform. And the vine, representing compunction of tears. So Genesis 49 says:
Juda tying his foal to the vineyard, and his ass, O my son, to the vine.
He shall wash his robe in wine, and his garment in the blood of the grape. (Gn 49,11)
The ‘ass’ is the flesh, the ‘foal’ the inclinations of the flesh. Juda (the penitent) binds both his flesh and its inclinations, lest it run wild and wanton, to the ‘vineyard’ or ‘vine’, compunction of mind. In it he ‘washes his robe’ (cleanses his conscience) and his ‘garments’ (his outward actions). As it is said:
Thou hast made us drink the wine of sorrow. (Ps 59,5)
Of these two (the vine and the fig-tree), I Maccabees 14 says:
Simon made peace in the land, and Israel rejoiced with great joy. And every man sat under his vine and under his fig-tree, and there was none to make them afraid. (1M 14,11-12)
Simon (‘obedient’, or ‘bearing sorrow’) is Christ, who was obedient to the Father and bore the sorrow of death. As he said, My soul is sorrowful even unto death (Mt 26,38). When he makes peace in the land (our flesh), treading down the insults of the devil and the tumult of the flesh, Israel (our spirit) rejoices with great joy. Then everyone rests under the vine of inner compunction and the fig-tree of fraternal charity. These two give their strength both to you and your neighbour. May he grant us this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
1 P.COMESTOR, Historia scholastica, in Evangelia, 39; PL 198.1560
2 cf. JEROME, Epistle 130, to Demetrius, 9; PL 22.1115
3 ROMAN BREVIARY, Responsory 5 at Matins, Feast of St Michael.
4 The ‘History of the Greeks’ seems to have been the name of an apocryphal Gospel current in St Antony’s time.
5 ROMAN MISSAL, Preface of the Cross.
6 cf. P.COMESTOR, Historia scholastica, liber III Regum, 26; PL 198.1370; and in Evangelia, 81; PL 198.1579
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury
1. At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: Which of you shall have a friend. (Lc 11,5)
In this Gospel three things are noted: the asking for bread, the persistence of prayer, and the love of a father for his son.
2. The asking for bread: Which of you shall have a friend. Let us see what is the meaning of these six: the friend, the night, the three loaves, the friend from the journey, the door, the children.
The friend, ‘guardian of the soul’, is Jesus Christ. Unless he keep the soul, he labours in vain who keeps it (cf. Ps 126,1). Ecclesiasticus 6 says of him:
A faithful friend is a strong defence: and he that hath found him hath found a treasure. Nothing can be compared to a faithful friend: and no weight of gold and silver is able to countervail the goodness of his fidelity. (Si 6,14-15)
And chapter 9:
Forsake not an old friend: for the new will not be like to him. (Si 9,14)
(This means the devil, who loves novelty). Our true friend is Jesus Christ, who loved us so much that he delivered his life for us (cf. Ga 2,20). O how faithful would be your friend, if, when you were at the point of death, he offered himself for you, and freely took upon himself your sickness and death!
Natural History says that the curlew, a totally white bird, and the inside of whose eyes is a cure for blindness, fixes its gaze upon a sick person if he is destined to live, and this is an indication of his state of health. The bird then approaches the face of the sick person and draws out his illness, taking it into itself. Then it flies into the air, and totally consumes it in the burning rays of the sun. It is the same with Christ our friend, who is wholly white, because he is clean from all sin, and the blood flowing from the wound in his side has cured the blindness of our souls, which could not see clearly before. It is said that blood taken from a dove’s side removes a blemish from the eye. He gazed fixedly upon the sick human race with the eyes of his mercy, and this was a sign of our salvation. He came to us, took our infirmity, mounted the Cross, and their consumed our sins in the burning heat of the Passion. Truly, he was our friend, of whom it is said: Which of you shall have a friend and shall go to him at midnight (Lc 11,5).
The night which impedes the eyes is tribulation or temptation, which impede the eyes of reason. Job 3 says of it:
Let that night be solitary, and not worthy of praise. (Jb 3,7)
The night of temptation is ‘solitary’ when it finds no consent in man; it is ‘not worthy of praise’ when man does not favour or fawn on it. A person associates himself with temptation and praises it, who receives it when it comes, and having received it, toys with it in his mind. You should go to Christ your friend in this night, and say to him: Friend, lend me three loaves (Lc 11,5).
The ‘three loaves’ are the three-fold grace of compunction. The first is the remembrance of one’s own frailty and sin; the second is the consideration of our present exile; the third is the contemplation of the Creator. He asks for the loan of these three loaves. A loan is something that must be repaid. Whatever we have of grace, we receive from God and must return to him.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us: but to thy name give glory. (Ps 113,1) (113A)
You are poor, and have not the bread of compunction: ask your friend to lend it to you, so that you may return to him what you have received from him.
Because, he says, a friend of mine is come off his journey to me,
and I have not what to set before him. (Lc 11,6)
The friend who has come from a journey is the mind which departs from us as often as it wanders off to look for temporal things. It returns when it thinks of higher things and desires to be refreshed with heavenly food. He has nothing to set before it, because a benighted soul sighing for God cannot think, speak or gaze on anything but him. Only the joy of the Trinity, which is also represented by the three-fold bread, and which the soul begins to recognise again and strive to see more fully and attain.
3. There follows: And he from within should answer and say:
Trouble me not; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. (Lc 11,7)
He, our friend, is ‘within’, and we poor wretches are still standing outside, because we are cast out from his countenance in our present miserable exile. We stand outside, and have to cry out: Friend, lend me three loaves. He asks the loan of three loaves, suffering many inconveniences. See: he stands outside, in the middle of the night and in such need of bread! At a closed door he cries out, and hears these words: Trouble me not (that is, I must not be disturbed by your prayers), because the door is shut.
There is something similar in Deuteronomy 28:
Be the heaven, that is over thee of brass, and the ground thou treadest on of iron. The Lord give thee dust for rain upon thy land: and let ashes come down from heaven upon thee, till thou be consumed. (Dt 28,23-24)
The door is shut, the heavens are brass, when the ray of divine grace does not illuminate the human mind, and his prayer does not penetrate the heaven of brass. It is said:
Thou hast set a cloud, that our prayer may not pass through. (Lm 3,44)
If the sky were brass, the sun would not shine and the rain would not fall; and men would remain in darkness and perish in drought. So, when the door or sky of heavenly grace is shut, the sinner remains in darkness of conscience, and lacks the rain of compunction. The ‘ground he treads on’ (the active life), and over which he sweats, becomes ‘of iron’, and from it he can receive no fruit of consolation, only coldness and hardness of heart. Iron is cold and hard. The land is given dust instead of rain, when, instead of an abundance of tears, the wretched soul is given the dust of the most trivial thoughts, which dry it up. Ashes come down on it, when it looks for mortal and fallen things which beat it and afflict it. See how great is the sorrow and anguish! There is no sweetness in the contemplative life, no comfort in the active life, blindness of mind in prayer, aimless wandering among temporalities.
But should he despair? Should he give up praying? Of course not! Even if the door of heavenly grace is shut, either because of our sins or to make us more fervent to pray and beseech. Even if the ‘children’ (the angelic spirits through whom God infuses his gifts of grace, and gives comfort in tribulation) are with him ‘in bed’, that is, in eternal rest, and will not come out to minister to us. The Apostle writes to the Hebrews:
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation? (He 1,14)
Even so, should one cease to ask for bread? He says, I cannot rise and give thee. (Lc 11,7); but the Gloss says here, "He does not take away the hope of praying, he more vehemently inflames the desire to pray, having shown the difficulty of gaining what one wants."
Yet, if he shall continue knocking, I say to you, etc. (Lc 11,8). The Gloss says, "If a human friend rises and gives, not from friendship but compelled by weariness, how much more will God give, who without weariness gives abundantly what is asked? Lest our mind, converted from the vanity of error, waste away any longer for want of its spiritual desire, we ask for bread, we ask our friend to give us, we knock at the door where what we cannot see is kept. He gives us great hope, who does not deceive with his promises." Because of his importunity, he will rise (Lc 11,8), for unremitting effort conquers all, and by the inspiration of his grace he will give him all he needs, even if it is not all he sometimes wants.
4. The persistence of prayer: And I say to you: Ask, and it shall be given you (Lc 11,9).
So Zechariah 10 says:
Ask ye the Lord rain in the latter season: and the Lord will make snows; and will give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field. (Za 10,1)
Snow, which is white and cold, represents the cleanness of chastity; the showers of rain are the devotion of tearful compunction; the grass is compassion for our brother’s need, which should always grow green in the field of our heart. We should ask these three of the Lord, if not at once, at least ‘in the latter season’, later, for first we should seek the kingdom of God and his justice (cf. Mt 6,33 Lc 12,31). Worldly people first make their request for earthly things, lastly for eternal ones; when they should start first from heaven, where our treasure is, and therefore where our heart ought to be (cf. Mt 6,21 Lc 12,34), and our request.
Seek, and you shall find (Lc 11,9). The Bride says in Canticles 3:
I will rise and will go about the city.
In the streets and the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth. (Ct 3,2)
The city is the heavenly homeland, in which there are ‘streets and broad ways’, that is, greater and lesser orders. The soul should rise, lifting herself from earthly things, and go round it, marvelling at the burning love of the seraphim for God, gazing upon the cherubim in their wisdom regarding God, and so on, for the rest, among whom she seeks her Spouse. But because he is higher than all of them, she does not find him, and so she must pass by the ‘watchmen’, the heavenly spirits, in speculation of mind, in order to be able to find the Beloved.
Seek, and ye shall find. So Zephaniah 2 says:
Seek the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, you that have wrought his judgement: seek the just, seek the meek: if by any means you may be hid in the day of his indignation. (So 2,3)
And Amos 5:
Seek the Lord and you shall live. But seek not Bethel and go not into Galgal, neither shall you pass over to Bersabee. (Am 5,4-5)
The children of Israel made golden calves and placed them in Bethel, to adore them there (cf. 1R 12,32). Gold represents the splendour of temporal glory, the calf is the wanton flesh. Seek not these; and go not into Galga,l, meaning ‘wallowing place’, the mud of lust in which pigs wallow. Neither shall you pass over to Bersabee, ‘the seventh well’, the chasm of cupidity, bottomless and insatiable, just as the seventh day is said to be ‘endless’. Rather:
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found: call upon him while he is near. (Is 55,6)
5. So there follows: Knock, and it shall be opened to you (Lc 11,9). Thus it says in Acts 12:
But Peter continued knocking. And when they had opened, they saw him and were astonished. (Ac 12,16)
Peter, freed from prison by the angel, stands for anyone who is freed by God’s grace from the prison of sin. He should knock with perseverance at the door of the heavenly court, and then the angels will open to him, that is, they will offer the prayer of his devotion in the sight of God; and their ‘astonishment’ (if I may say so) is the joy they have over a sinner doing penance (cf. Lc 15,10).
6. The love of a father for a son: Which of you, if he ask his father bread, etc. (Lc 11,11). Let us see what these six opposites signify: bread and stone, fish and serpent, egg and scorpion.
‘Bread’, which stands for every food, is charity, which should find its place with every food of good action. Let all be done in charity (1Co 16,14), he says. Just as a table seems lacking, without bread, so the other virtues are nothing without charity, because by charity alone are they perfected. Leviticus 26 says:
You shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land without fear. (Lv 26,5)
The Lord promises two things here, which we will have perfectly in the future, namely fullness of charity, whereby the soul is satisfied, and peace in the land which is our flesh. Any Christian, a child of grace, should ask this bread of God his father, so that he may love him above all things, and his neighbour as himself. So he says: Give us this day our daily bread (Lc 11,3).
Will he give him a stone? (Lc 11,11). Job 28 says:
The stone that is in the dark and the shadow of death:
the flood divideth from the people that are on their journey. (Jb 28,3-4)
The flood is compunction of tears, which separates the ‘stone of darkness’ (the hardness of a blind mind) and the ‘shadow of death’ (mortal sin, which comes from the devil, whose name is Death (cf. Ap 6,8)), from the ‘people on their journey’, penitents who should reckon themselves pilgrims in this exile. When a son asks for charity, God his father will not give him hardness of heart, rather he removes it. He says:
I will take away your stony heart that does not feel,
and will give you a heart of flesh which will sorrow. (Ez 36,26)
Or a fish. The fish is faith in what cannot be seen. Just as a fish is born, lives and is nourished under the covering of the waters, so faith (which is in God) is generated invisibly in the soul, consecrated by the invisible grace of the Spirit by the water of Baptism, and is nourished by the invisible aid of divine protection, lest it grow faint; and by the sight of invisible rewards it does whatever good it can. Or indeed, faith is compared to a fish because just as the latter is tossed repeatedly by the waves of the sea, yet is not destroyed, so faith is not broken by adversity. Any Christian should ask this fish of God his father, saying, "Grant me to live and die in the faith of your Apostles and of your holy catholic Church."
7. Will he for a fish give him a serpent? (Lc 11,11). A serpent creeps by hidden ways, and every serpent is cold by nature, nor does it strike unless it is heated. Some say that serpents are born of the marrow of a dead man’s spine.1 It is said to die if the leaves of a bush are cast upon it. It is said, too, that it is afraid if it sees a man naked, but it attacks him if he is clothed. Serpents love wine exceedingly, and eat flesh and herbs, and suck moisture from animals to which they attach themselves. The ‘serpent’ is the devil, who approaches secretly in order to tempt, or else it is his lack of faith, creeping like a crab. The devil is ‘cold’ by his ingrained malice, but when inflamed with the heat of hurting, tries to inject the poison of infidelity into the souls of the faithful, who alone live. All others are dead, because they have been killed by the poison of faithlessness, which arises in their hearts and goes out to kill others. But thanks be to God, who has given us the antidote to this poison, the ‘leaves of a bush’. The bush, which was on fire and was not
burnt (cf. Ex 3,2), is the humanity of Jesus Christ, who, quite full of thorns, burned in the fire of the Passion, yet was not burnt up. My strength is dried up like a potsherd (Ps 21,16), he said. His ‘leaves’ (that is, his words) kill the serpent, the devil and his infidelity.
The devil fears a naked man, Christ’s little poor man, stripped of temporal things. When he sees a man who is clothed , a covetous man, wrapped in temporal things, he attacks him; he presses temptations upon him strongly, and if possible injects his poison. Alternatively, the ‘naked man’ is the one who lacks the clothing of self-will, regarding which Mark 10 says that the blond man, casting off his garment, leaped up and came to Jesus (Mc 10,50). He who wants to receive the light, and come to salvation, must cast far away his self-will. He who is clad in the robe of self-will, the devil at once attacks him. This is clear in Adam, for while he was obedient the devil feared him:
They were both naked, and were not ashamed. (Gn 2,25)
But when he covered himself with the garment of self-will, the serpent assailed him:
When they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig-leaves, and made themselves aprons. (Gn 3,7)
Again, the devil greatly loves the ‘wine’ of lust, the ‘flesh’ (carnality) of gluttony; and he gladly takes into himself the bright herbs of temporal glory. He fastens on to a man by consent, and sucks out the moisture of compunction from him. God our father will not give his son such a serpent, when he asks for a fish; rather he makes him faithful from being unfaithful, turns him from death to life.
8. Or if he shall ask an egg (Lc 11,12), which represents the certainty of our hope, because in an egg we see a creature not yet perfect, yet which, with care, we hope for. An egg is inwardly full of moisture; in the same way, he who hopes for eternal things is full of the moisture of devotion. Natural History says that eggs differ in shape, some being narrow and some broad. Long eggs with a sharp end produce males; round, blunt ended, eggs produce females. There are also ‘wind eggs’, which are not fertile, and are small and tasteless. When thunder occurs during the time of incubation, the eggs go bad.
‘Sharp-ended eggs’ stand for hope of eternal things. The Apostle says:
Forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before. (cf. Ph 3,13)
The ‘length’ or ‘sharpness’ of the egg represents the soul’s desire, which it has in its hope of the heavenly kingdom. >From such an egg a ‘male’ (virtuous work) is produced. The broad or round egg represents hope in transitory things (if we may call it hope).
For what a man seeth, why does he hope for? (Rm 8,24)
In them is ‘the broad way that leads to death’ (cf. Mt 7,13); and: The wicked walk round about (Ps 11,9), My God, make them like a wheel (Ps 82,14). From such an egg a ‘female’ is produced, a weaker work. Such hope is ‘blunt’, obscured, because it ‘loves darkness more than light’ (cf. Jn 3,19). It is represented by the wind-egg, windy and full of wind. So Hosea 8 says:
They have sown wind, and reaped the whirlwind. (Os 8,7)
Such a fruit comes from such a seed, for those who sow vanity will reap damnation. The ‘hope of the wind’ does not produce the chick of charity; it is small, not growing towards God, and tasteless, because it is not seasoned with the flavour of wisdom.
When ‘thunder’ rolls, the temptations of prosperity or adversity at the beginning of conversion or a new way of life, the eggs of hope and holy intent ‘go off’. The child of grace should ask the egg of eternal hope from the Father of mercy, because, as Jeremiah 17 says:
Blessed be the man that trusteth in the Lord, and the Lord shall be his confidence. (Jr 17,7)
9. Will he reach him a scorpion? (Lc 11,12), whose poisoned sting in the tail is to be feared. Hope is the opposite of looking back, for hope of future things reaches out to those that are before it. The scorpion (which will not strike the palm of the hand) flatters with the mouth, but strikes with its tail, in which it has two stings that inject poison. The palm of the hand is hairless; our ‘hand’ is good work, our ‘palm’ is the right intention in our work. A ‘hair’ in the palm or the eye is a bad intention. If your eye is simple (meaning your intention), then your whole body (your work) will be light (cf. Lc 11,34). The ‘scorpion’ is the devil, who flatters with his suggestions, but in the end strikes with the double sting of his tail;. In the present life, he infects body and soul with sin, and afterwards he punishes both. Happy is he who has a ‘palm’ of right intention in his hand, which the devil cannot strike. A pure palm of intention cleanses and beautifies the face and the whole body.
There follows: If you, then, being evil, etc. (Lc 11,13). Every creature is evil in the sight of the divine goodness, for None is good but God alone (Lc 18,19). It is an apt comparison. If a sinful man, still burdened with frail flesh, does not deny temporal things to his children who ask him, much more will the heavenly Father give the good things that fail not in heaven, to his children who are endowed with fear and love. May he grant us these things, he who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - (THE REGENERATION OF BAPTISM)