Anthony_Sermons - (FIRST CLAUSE)
1. GREGORY, In Evangelia, hom. 6,1; PL 76.1095
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury
Translated by Paul Spilsbury
(A sermon for the third Sunday in Advent on the Epistle of blessed Paul: Rejoice in the Lord.)
(First, the theme for a sermon for penitents: In that day shall this canticle be sung.)
1. Rejoice in the Lord always. (Ph 4,4)
In that day shall this canticle be sung in the land of Juda: Sion, the city of our strength: a Saviour, a wall and a bulwark shall be set therein.
Open ye the gates: and let the just nation, that keepeth the truth, enter in. (Is 26,12)
The ‘day’ is the illumination of grace, by which we are enlightened, and being enlightened we sing the song of which Isaiah says:
You shall have a song as the voice of the sanctified solemnity,
and joy of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord,
to the Mighty One of Israel. (Is 30,29)
The ‘song’ of confession is the ‘voice of the sanctified solemnity’, because it sanctifies the sinner, at whose conversion the angels keep festival. Thus, There is joy before the angels of God, etc. (Lc 15,10). From this solemnity there arises joy in the sinner’s heart, of which Isaiah says:
Thou hast met him that rejoiceth and doth justice, (Is 64,5)
‘as one that goes with a pipe’. The ‘pipe’ is the melody of self-accusation, and when
anyone plays it perfectly he enters the mountain of the Lord, the heavenly Jerusalem, to see the Mighty One of Israel, Jesus Christ. And where is this song sung? In the ‘land of Juda’, of penitents, as Isaiah says:
The land of Juda shall be a terror to Egypt- (Is 19,17)
that is, to the world. Worldly folk are terrified when they see the just crucified on the cross of penance. So it says in Luke, of the Saviour’s Passion:
When they saw the things that were done, they returned, striking their breasts. (Lc 23,48)
Let us listen to what penitents sing in the joy of their hearts: Sion, the city of our strength. Sion means ‘a watch-tower’, and it stands for penitence, of which Jeremiah says:
Set thee up a watch-tower: make to thee bitterness. (Jr 31,21)
And in Isaiah, the penitent says:
I am upon the watch-tower of the Lord, standing continually by day: and I am upon my ward, standing whole nights. (Is 21,8)
Prosperity lifts up, adversity casts down; and so the penitent says, I am upon the watch- tower of penitence, illuminated by the grace of the Lord; standing, that is, firm, through the day of prosperity, lest I fall from my intent; and I am upon my ward, standing whole nights of adversity, to keep myself from all sin. Penitents may well say that Sion (penitence) is the city (which guards and defends us in the day of prosperity) of our strength (which keeps us in the night of adversity lest we be overwhelmed).
There follows: The Saviour will be set in it as a wall and a bulwark. A wall is for defence; the wall represents the Divinity, and the bulwark humanity. The Saviour is ‘set in it as a wall’, as though to say that faith in the Incarnate Word is the protection and defence of penitents. So Isaiah says:
As birds flying (over their young), so will the Lord of Hosts protect Jerusalem, protecting and delivering, passing over and saving. (Is 31,5)
As the eagle enticing her young to fly, and hovering over them, (Dt 32,11)
as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, (Mt 23,37)
so Jesus, the Lord of the angelic hosts, protects Jerusalem, the congregation of
penitents. He ‘protects’ it, I say, with the overshadowing of his humanity; he ‘delivers’ it by the power of his divinity; he ‘passes over’ when he makes them pass through the Red Sea, the bitterness of penance made red by the blood of his Passion; he ‘saves’, when he brings them into the promised land, flowing with milk and honey. So he says to the angels: Open the gates (of paradise), and let the righteous nation (of penitents) enter in, that keepeth the truth (of the Gospel).
It is to this people, singing the song of a sanctified solemnity, with the music of the pipe, that the Apostle says in today’s Epistle: Rejoice in the Lord always.
(Against prelates of the Church and on the unhappy trio of sins: The whole head is sick.)
2. (Rejoice in the Lord always.) They cannot do this, those people of whom Isaiah says: The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is sad.
From the sole of the foot unto the top of the head, there is no soundness therein; wounds and bruises and swelling sores are not bound up, nor dressed nor fomented with oil. (Is 1,5-6)
The ‘head’ stands for prelates, the ‘heart’ for true religious, the ‘sole of the foot’ for the laity. Alas! The whole head is sick. As Jeremiah says:
From the prophets of Jerusalem corruption is gone forth into all the land. (Jr 23,15)
Iniquity came out from Babylon,
from the ancient judges that seemed to govern the people. (Da 13,5)
Isaiah says of this sickness:
On all their heads (that is, the prelates of the Church) shall be baldness, and every beard shall be shaven. (Is 15,2)
After a long illness, and in old age, the hair often falls out and the head becomes bald.
Alas! Our head (our prelates) has lost its hair (the grace of the Holy Spirit) from the long illness of vice; and their whole beard (all the vigour and strength of good works) is shaved off. So they have become weak and effeminate, as the Lord says of them by Isaiah:
I will give children to be their princes, and the effeminate shall rule over them. (Is 3,4)
In this way, the whole head is sick.
And the whole heart is sad. Note that there are three characteristics of the heart: it is the seat of wisdom, the law of nature is written upon it (namely, What you would not have done to you, etc. (cf. Tb 4,16)) and it is the organ of indignation. Likewise, in a true religious there is the wisdom of contemplation, the law of love, and indignation against sin. Such a heart, set between head and feet (clergy and laity) mourns and weeps for the weakness of both. From the sole of the foot to the top of the head, from least to greatest, from laity to clergy, from actives to contemplatives, there is no soundness in the body. How then can it rejoice in the Lord?
There follows: Wounds and bruises, etc. The ‘wounds’ are lust, the ‘bruises’ avarice, and the ‘swelling sores’ pride. Regarding the first two, Genesis records how Lamech said to his two wives:
I have slain a man to the wounding of myself, and a stripling to my own bruising. (Gn 4,23)
Lamech was the first to bring the shame of bigamy into the world, and so he represents the lustful and avaricious man. He slays ‘a man’ (reason) by the wound of lust; and ‘a stripling’ (the beginning of good will) by the bruise of avarice. Avarice is not just a concern for material money, but any ambition, and from this desire the devouring bruise of dissension and detraction arises. Ambition for transient dignity is like a bone thrown to dogs, which enviously quarrel over it and snap at each other. They are, as Isaiah says:
Most impudent dogs, they never had enough;
the shepherds themselves knew no understanding. (Is 56,11)
Regarding the swelling of pride, it says in Job:
Why doth thy heart elevate thee,
and why dost thou stare with thy eyes, as if they were thinking great things?
Why doth thy spirit swell against God, to utter such words out of thy mouth? (
The Lord said something similar to Sennacherib in Isaiah:
I know thy dwelling, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
When thou wast mad against me, thy pride came up to my ears. (Is 37,28-29)
So we must say that the wound of lust is not bound up with the bandages of continence; the bruise of avarice is not healed by the medicine of almsgiving; and the swelling sore of pride is not soothed with the oil of inner humility, from which comes a clear conscience that generates joy in the Holy Spirit. Those who lack this cannot rejoice in the Lord; but those who return from iniquity to Jacob can rejoice in the Lord, those of whom Isaiah says:
They shall return, and shall come into Sion with praise: and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. (Is 35,10) So, rejoice in the Lord always.
(On the Incarnation of the Word: Arise, arise.)
3. And again I say, rejoice. Note that he says ‘rejoice’ twice, because of the two-fold blessing of the first and second Advents. We should rejoice, because in his first coming he bestowed riches and glory on us. We should rejoice again, because in his second coming he will give us length of days. So it says in Proverbs:
Length of days is in his right hand, and in his left hand riches and glory. (Pr 3,16)
In his left hand (his first coming) were the glorious riches of poverty and humility, patience and obedience. In his right hand (the second coming) is eternal life.
Again, regarding the blessing of his first coming, Isaiah says:
Arise, arise, put on strength, O thou arm of the Lord:
arise as in the days of old, in the ancient generations.
Hast thou not struck the proud one, and wounded the dragon?
Hast thou not dried up the sea, the water of the mighty deep?
Who madest the depths of the sea a way, that the delivered might pass over? (Is 51,9-10)
The arm of the Lord is Jesus Christ the Son of God, in whom and by whom he made all things. This arm of God the Father was for our sake broken in two, when in his Passion his soul was separated from his flesh, and went down to free those who were in the world below, while his flesh rested in the tomb. But on the day of Resurrection the Father re-established his arm, and healed the stroke of his wound (Is 30,26). So he says, Arm of the Lord (O my Son), arise from the throne of your Father’s glory, arise and take on flesh, put on strength of divinity against the prince of this world, so that being stronger you may cast him out. Arise to redeem the human race, as in the days of old when you freed the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. O Son, you struck the proud one, the devil, expelling him from heaven; and you wounded the dragon in your Passion, when you took away his dominion. You dried up the sea’, the Red Sea, as if to say: You who did these things will also do this. The Lord dried up the sea and the water of the roaring deep, when he destroyed the power of the devil (‘the sea’) and his lies (‘the deep’), and so made the depths of the sea (hell) a way that the delivered might pass over.
Regarding the benefit of the second coming, the Lord says in Isaiah:
Behold, I create from angels and men, the heavenly Jerusalem a rejoicing,
and the people thereof joy.
And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and the voice of weeping shall no more be heard in her, nor the voice of crying; (Is 65,18-19) because, as Isaiah also says:
The Lord shall wipe away tears from every face. (Is 25,8)
4. There follows: Let your moderation be known unto all men. Moderation is keeping the middle way in everything. Moderation consists chiefly in two things: peace of mind and decency in body. Isaiah says of it:
The work of justice shall be peace;
and the service of justice, quietness and security for ever. (Is 32,17)
The work of justice- that is, of those who are justified by grace- is peace. They lay the
foundation of every good work in peace of mind; and so the ‘service’ (outward works and demeanour) is quietness. When the inner man rests in the house of peace, the outer man sits in decency and the security of quietness. To a man so still and self-contained, there will be security for ever.
The Lord is at hand. This is what the Father says in Isaiah:
I have brought my justice (i.e. my Son) near:
it shall not be afar off, and my salvation shall not tarry.
I will give salvation in Sion and my glory in Jerusalem. (Is 46,12)
This is what is said in today’s Gospel:
There hath stood one in the midst of you whom you know not: (Jn 1,26)
the mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1Tm 2,5), who takes the field against the devil, whom he will conquer, and rescue man from his hand, and reconcile him to God the Father. This is what he says in Isaiah:
I have nourished children and exalted them: but they have despised me.
The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master's crib,
but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood. (Is 1,2-3)
See how near the Lord is, and we do not know him! I have nourished my children like a mother, with my blood for milk. I have exalted human nature, which I took from them and united it to myself above the choirs of angels. He could not bestow upon us any greater honour or privilege. And they despised me.
Attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow (Lm 1,12).
Woe to thou that spurnest! Shalt not thou thyself also be spurned? (Is 33,1)
So in Proverbs we read:
The eye that mocketh at his father,
and that despiseth the labour of his mother in bearing him:
let the ravens of the brooks pick it out, and the young eagles eat it. (Pr 30,17)
A literal interpretation is enough to show the punishment for despising father or mother. The ox (the thief on the cross) knows his owner, saying: Remember me (Lc 23,42); the ass (the centurion) his master’s crib, saying: Truly this was the Son of God (Mc 15,40); but Israel (the clergy) has not known me, and my people (the laity) has not understood.
(For the body of a dead person: Behold, at my rebuke; and: The fishers also shall mourn.)
5. There follows: Be nothing solicitous. Solicitude for temporal things leads to forgetfulness of God. So he says in Isaiah:
Thou hast found the life of thy hand: therefore thou hast not asked.
For that (that is, for keeping riches) hast thou been solicitous and afraid,
so that thou hast lied and hast not been mindful of me. (Is 57,10-11)
Thou hast said: I shall be a lady for ever.
Thou hast not laid these things to thy heart, neither hast thou remembered thy latter end. And now hear these things, thou that art delicate and dwellest confidently, that sayest in thy heart: I am, and there is none else besides me;
I shall not sit as a widow, and I shall not know barrenness.
These two things shall come upon thee suddenly in one day: barrenness and widowhood. (Is 47,7-9)
In one day these two things shall come upon the daughter of the Chaldeans to whom this curse is addressed, the wretched soul given to the concupiscence of the senses: barrenness in temporal abundance, and widowhood of carnal concupiscence.
So the Lord curses in Isaiah:
Behold, at my rebuke I will make the sea a desert, I will turn the rivers into dry land: the fishes shall rot for want of water, and shall die for thirst. (Is 50,2)
The separation of the soul from the body is like the Lord's rebuke in Genesis:
In the sweat of they face shalt thou eat bread,
till thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken. (Gn 3,19)
In the ‘rebuke’ of death, the Lord makes ‘the sea’, the bitterness and depth of temporal abundance, ‘a desert’. So Isaiah says:
The daughter of Sion shall be left as a covert in a vineyard,
as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, and as a city that is laid waste. (Is 1,8)
Just as the covert is abandoned when the grapes are all picked, and the lodge is abandoned when the fruits are gathered, and a city is deserted and laid waste when its people are led into captivity: so the daughter of Sion, the soul abandoned by God and given over to the devil, will be stripped of all her riches and pleasures. So it goes on: I will turn the rivers, the pleasures of the five senses, into dry land. Then ‘the fish’, the fussy and solicitous folk whose paths are in the sea of this world, will ‘rot’ in their own excrement, ‘for want of water’, the abundance and concupiscence that they used to swim in, and they shall die of thirst, the thirst that tormented the purple-clad rich man in hell (cf. Lc 16,24).
So, be nothing solicitous, because Isaiah says of fussy and solicitous folk:
The fishers also shall mourn, and all that cast a hook into the river shall lament: and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish away.
They shall be confounded, that wrought in flax, combing and weaving fine linen. (Is 19,89)
The ‘fishers’ are those who love this world, fretting and worrying about riches and pleasures. Those who ‘cast a hook into the river’ are false merchants who, as it were, cover the hook of their intention with the bait of deceitful attraction, so as to catch those who want to buy. Those who ‘spread nets upon the waters’ are accursed usurers, who catch great and small, rich and poor, in the net of their usury. Those who ‘work in flax, combing and weaving fine linen’ are lawyers, legal experts and false advocates with their quibbles. All these folk will lament at their life’s end, when they must give up their stewardship (cf. Lc 16,2), because they will be miserably stripped of the riches they so carefully amassed and so ardently loved. They will languish away, because when their
souls have departed their bodies they will be given to demons to be eternally punished. They will be confounded in the day of judgement before God and his angels. So, be nothing solicitous.
6. There follows:
But in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.
So were made known the petitions of Ezechias, of whom there is a concordance in Isaiah:
Ezechias turned his face to the wall (sc. of the temple, for he could not go to the temple, being too ill) and prayed to the Lord; and said: I beseech thee, O Lord, remember how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Ezechias wept with great weeping. (Is 38,2-3)
The Gloss says, "He wept because he was going to die without sons, and he was afraid that the promise made to his fathers would fail because of his sins."
And the word of the Lord came to Isaias, saying: Go and say to Ezechias: Thus saith the Lord the God of David thy father: I have heard thy prayer, and I have seen thy tears; behold, I will add to thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee and thy city out of the hand of the king of the Assyrians, and I will protect it. (Is 38,4-7)
The ‘wall’, which stands vertically, is the humanity of Jesus Christ, whose life was entirely upright. In the Canticles, the Bride says of this wall:
Behold, he standeth behind our wall. (Ct 2,9)
The blast of the mighty is like a whirlwind beating against a wall. (Is 25,4)
The Jews raged against Jesus but could not overthrow him, steadfast in his Passion. Turn yourself to this wall, then, O sinner, because your soul is restrained by weakness. Turn yourself by heartfelt contrition and true confession, which you should make with many tears and with the intention of persevering to the end. In this way, penitent, you will make your petitions known to God. He will add to the days of your penance years of glory; he will deliver you from the hand of the king of the Assyrians, the devil and his ministers; and he will protect and defend the city, your soul and body.
So there follows: And the peace of God- (of which Isaiah says: Let peace come: let him rest in his bed that hath walked in his righteousness (Is 57,2). According to the Gloss,
"The prophet prayed for Christ to come, and when he rose from the dead he ‘rested in his bed’, the glory of his Father’s majesty; or in the Church, in which he walked in righteousness because he did no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.")
which surpasseth understanding (whether of angels or of men; the Apostle says: Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? (Rm 11,24))
keep your hearts, (that peace may be the work of justice)
and minds, (that the service of justice may be quietness)
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us humbly beseech him then, beloved brothers, to enable us to sing the song of a sanctified solemnity; and so to rejoice in him, live modestly, put away solicitude, and make known to him our every petition, that protected by his peace we may live in the peaceful heavenly Jerusalem. May he grant this, who is blessed and glorious for ever and ever. Let every peace-loving soul say: Amen. Alleluia.
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury
(The Gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent: The word of the Lord came to John, which is divided into two clauses.)
(First, the theme for a sermon for preachers or prelates of the Church: Get thee upon a high mountain.)
1. At that time: The word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. (Lc 3,2)
Get thee up upon a high mountain,
thou that bringest good tidings to Sion.
Lift up thy voice with strength,
thou that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem. (Is 40,9)
Let us see what these three mean, ‘mountain’, ‘Sion’, ‘Jerusalem’.
A mountain, being immovable, stands for the stable life of the just man; of whom Isaiah says:
A man shall be as when one is hid from the wind, and hideth himself from a storm: as rivers of water in drought,
and the shadow of a rock that standeth out in a desert land. (Is 32,2)
This is as if to say: thus will the just man be safe in tribulation, as one who hides himself in a safe place to escape wind and storm; or as one who finds clear springs in the desert; or who wards off the heat of the sun under the shade of a rock. The just man hides from the wind of the devil’s suggestions, and from the storm of worldly prosperity. He is watered by the rivers of grace in the drought of carnal desire, and he wards off the heat of the sun (worldly persecution) under the shade of the rock which protects him in tribulation, Jesus Christ. In this way, the life of the just is a ‘mountain’.
On the other hand, Isaiah says of king Ahaz:
His heart was moved, and the heart of his people,
as the trees of the wood are moved by the wind. (Is 7,2)
A mountain falling cometh to nought: and a rock is removed out of its place.
Waters wear away the stones:
and with inundation the ground little by little is washed away. (Jb 14,18-19)
(see above, in the story of Job).
So, get you up upon the high mountain which does not fall and come to nought, you who bring good tidings to Sion. St Gregory says, "He who is engaged in heavenly preaching seems already to have deserted the depths of earthly works, and to be standing on the very heights. He will more easily draw those entrusted to him to better things, the more his good life proclaims heavenly things. That voice more readily penetrates the hearer’s heart, when the speaker’s life commends it. The spoken precept is reinforced by his example, to bring it about."
There follows: Lift up thy voice with strength, thou that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem. Sion was the lower part of the city, representing secular folk; Jerusalem was the higher part, meaning religious. When you bring good tidings to Sion, you must go up upon a high mountain, so that it may follow you up from the lower to the higher. So it says in the second book of Kings:
But David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, going up and weeping, walking barefoot, and with his head covered: and all the people that were with him went up with their heads covered, weeping. (2S 15,30)
David is the preacher who, as he goes up by the ascent of mount Olivet (excellence of life, which enlightens and anoints with the oil of divine mercy), should do three things: weep, cover his head, and walk barefoot. He should weep like Axa for ‘the upper and nether watery ground’ (cf. Jos 15,19 Jg 1,15); he should cover his head (which contains all the senses); and he should walk with feet bare of worldly vanity, with the affections of his mind stripped of the dead hide of self-will and possessiveness. If he goes up like that, all the people will go up devoutly after him, with heads covered from worldly vanity and weeping for their sins. But it does not say that the people walked barefoot, because it is lawful for seculars to own personal property.
When you bring good tidings to Jerusalem, that is, to religious, you must lift up your voice with strength, that they may be strongly inspired and may rejoice to run the way'(Ps 18,6), to receive an incorruptible crown (1Co 9,25). Job says of the horse (meaning the just man):
When he heareth the trumpet (of preaching, sounding strongly), he saith: Ha, ha! (Jb 39,25)
He pranceth boldly; he goeth forward to meet armed men.
He despiseth fear; he turneth not his back to the sword. (Jb 39,21-22)
John the Baptist, greatest of preachers, went up upon a high mountain and lifted up his voice with strength. It is of him and his preaching that today's Gospel says: The word of the Lord came.
2. There are two things to note in this Gospel: the high ground of preaching and the valley of humility. The first is: The word of the Lord came; the second is: Every valley.
In the Introit of the Mass we sing: Be mindful of us, Lord; and the Epistle of blessed Paul to the Corinthians is read: Let a man so account of us; which we will divide into two parts and concord with the two clauses of the Gospel. The first part is: Let a man so; the second is: Therefore judge not before the time.
(On: Go, ye swift angels; in which text seven vices are described.)
3. Let us say, then: The word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zachary, in the desert.
John represents the prelate or preacher of holy Church, who should be a ‘son of Zachary’ (‘remembrance of the Lord’) so as always to have in mind, like a kind of memorial, the Passion of Jesus Christ. So Isaiah says:
Thy name and thy remembrance are the desire of the soul.
My soul hath desired thee in the night:
yea, and with my spirit within me in the morning early I will watch to thee. (Is 26,8-9)
In the night of adversity we should desire him, and in the morning of prosperity we should watch to him, and keep his Passion in mind as a remembrance. So it says in Exodus:
It shall be as a sign in thy hand, and as a memorial before thy eyes. (Ex 13,9)
And in Deuteronomy, referring to the Incarnation and Passion of the Lord:
These words shall be in thy heart; and thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising.
And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand: and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes.
And thou shalt write them in the entry, and on the doors of thy house. (Dt 6,6-9)
If the prelate or preacher be a ‘son of Zachary’, saying with the Psalmist: I remembered God and was delighted (Ps 76,4), (that is, in the bitterness of his Passion, so as to say with the Bride in Canticles:
A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me:
he shall abide between my breasts, (Ct 1,12))
then the word of the Lord will come to him, the word of life and peace, the word of grace and truth, the word which Isaiah the son of Amos saw concerning Juda and Jerusalem (cf. Is 1,1)- that is, concerning the soul which confesses and dwells at peace with itself. O word that does not wound, but inebriates the heart! O sweet word, that brings the sinner comfort and blessed hope! O word, like cold water to a thirsty soul, bearing good tidings from a far country (cf. Pr 25,25). This is the whisper of a gentle breeze (1R 19,12), the inspiration of Almighty God, of which it is said:
As I see, there is a spirit in men,
and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding. (Jb 32,8)
O how truly blessed and truly worthy of being called ‘John’, to whom there came this word! May this word, I pray, Lord, come to your servant, according to your word, in peace (cf. Lc 2,29). Your word is a lamp to my paths (Ps 118,105).
We have heard to whom it came; but in what place did it come? In the desert. Where there is the desert, there is the word: that desert, I say, of which the Psalm says:
In a desert land, and where there is no way and no water; so in the sanctuary, etc. (Ps 62,3)
(See above, in the Gospel: When the unclean spirit goes out (Lent III, clause 4).
4. There follows: And he came to all the country about the Jordan.
When the word of divine inspiration comes to someone, he undoubtedly comes into ‘the country of the Jordan’, (which means ‘humble descent’), representing compassion towards one’s neighbour. The prelate or preacher should stoop and come down, so as to lift up his neighbour who lies prostrate.
There is a concordance to this in Isaiah, where the Lord says to preachers:
Go, ye swift angels, to a nation rent and torn in pieces: to a terrible people, after which there is no other: to a nation expecting and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled. (Is 18,2)
In this text seven vices are referred to, by which the human race is stricken. O angels, you prelates and preachers, go swiftly, for delay brings danger. Therefore the Lord said to his Apostles: Salute no man by the way (Lc 10,4), lest the course of your preaching be hindered. And in the fourth book of Kings, Eliseus tells Giezi:
If any man meet thee, salute him not:
and if any man salute thee, answer him not. (2R 4,29)
Go, then, swiftly to a nation that lives at ease, rent from the root of humility by the spirit of pride. Job says:
He hath taken away my hope, as from a tree that is plucked up. (Jb 19,10) torn in pieces by envy which tears the heart; as Nahum says:
Woe to thee, O city of blood, all full of lies and violence. (Na 3,1) to a terrible people, by wrath, of which Job says:
My enemy hath beheld me with terrible eyes. (Jb 16,10) to a nation expecting the reward of vainglory; he says:
They have received their reward. (Mt 6,5) and:
Thou didst sit in the ways, waiting for them as a robber in the wilderness (Jr 3,2) and trodden under foot by avarice; as Isaiah says:
I will give him to tread them down like the mire in the streets; (Is 10,6) and Habbakuk:
Woe to him that heapeth together that which is not his own; how long also doth he load himself with thick clay? (Ha 2,6)
whose land (mind) the rivers (of gluttony and lust) have spoiled; of which Ezekiel says: Behold, I come against thee, thou great dragon that liest in the midst of thy rivers, and sayest: The river is mine. (Ez 29,3)
How necessary preaching is, we learn from this text which follows in the Gospel: Preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins. (Lc 3,3)
As Isaiah says:
Wash yourselves: be clean, (Is 1,16) and a little further on:
If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow: and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool. (Is 1,18)
(See above in the Gospel: Jesus took Peter and James and John (Lent IIA).
The Lord also says in Isaiah:
I have blotted out thy iniquities as a cloud, and thy sins as a mist;
return to me (by penitence) for I have redeemed thee (by my blood). (Is 44,22)
Be comforted, be comforted, my people, saith your God.
Speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her:
for her evil is come to an end, her iniquity is forgiven.
She hath received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. (Is 40,1-2)
The Gloss comments: "The cause of comfort is the remission of sins; the cause of remission is that she has received double. Note that our sins are not loosed unless we receive it from the hand of the Lord. Nor is loosing from sin the same as forgiveness: he who is forgiven does not need loosing. He says: Your sins are forgiven; when they are loosed, it is because they are purged and loosed by penance."
(On the life of the preacher or prelate, and on the Passion of Jesus Christ: A voice crying in the wilderness.)
5. There follows: As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness. (Lc 3,4)
Note these three: ‘voice’, ‘crying’ and ‘wilderness’. What is a voice? Who is crying? What is the wilderness? The voice is the preacher, Christ is the one who cries, the wilderness is his Cross.
A voice is air, and the preacher should be ‘airy’, that is, heavenly, with his conversation
in heaven. So it says in Exodus:
Under (the Lord’s) feet as it were a work of sapphire stone, as the heaven when clear. (Ex 24,10)
Sapphire has the colour of air; the work of sapphire stone is the life of the holy preacher, who in humility of mind is under the ‘feet’ of the Lord's Incarnation, and hangs in the air by contemplation of heavenly blessedness. Whence Isaiah says:
Who are these that fly like clouds, and as doves to their windows? (Is 60,8)
The holy preachers are called ‘clouds’ because of their lightness, unburdened by earthly cares. They rain down by their words, they thunder with threats, they shine out by their examples, and fly in heaven by the wings of virtue. Like simple doves they stand at the windows, guarding the five senses of their body, lest death enter into the house of the mind. O Lord, were I to hear such a voice, I would cry out with Adam: I heard thy voice, and I was afraid (Gn 3,10). Such a voice is not human, but as of the high God. Therefore,
Let thy voice sound in my ears; for thy voice is sweet. (Ct 2,14)
My lips trembled at the voice (Ha 3,16)- such a voice!
The voice of thy thunder in a wheel. (Ps 76,19)
But alas! I do not hear a voice, only a bellowing and muttering! Isaiah says:
Thou shalt speak out of the earth; and thy speech shall be heard out of the ground; and thy voice shall be from the earth like that of the python, and out of the ground thy speech shall mutter. (Is 29,4)
(see above, on the Gospel: A certain man made a great supper (Pentecost II).) This muttering is not that of the Christ who cries out, for he speaks to us of heavenly things, not of earthly. As Isaiah says, He cries out like a lion (Is 21,8).
Where, though? In the desert. The ‘desert’ was his Cross, whereon he was deserted, naked and crowned with thorns. There he cried out. So the prophet Amos says:
Moab shall die with a noise, with the sound of a trumpet. (Am 2,2)
Moab is the devil, who died at the sound of the trumpet of the Lord’s preaching; and at the sound of him crying out on the Cross: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (Lc 23,46 cf. Ps Ps 30 Ps Ps 6). And Isaiah again:
Behold, the sovereign Lord of Hosts shall break the earthen vessel with terror.
And the tall of stature shall be cut down: and the lofty shall be humbled.
And the thickets of the forest shall be cut down with iron: and Libanus with its high ones shall fall. (Is 10,33-34)
The earthen vessel is the humanity of Christ, taken from the virgin earth, which he broke in his Passion. This was to the terror of the demons, the ‘tall of stature’ who were cut down from their power. The ‘lofty’ (the proud Jews) were humbled and cast down in retribution for the Passion of Christ; the ‘thickets of the forest’ (the earthly Jerusalem, so- called from the multitude of its people) were cut down by the iron of Titus and Vespasian; and ‘Libanus’ (the temple) fell with its high ones (the priests).
(At the beginning of the fast, for penitents: At the first time was lightly touched.)
6. There follows: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. (Lc 3,4)
At the first time, the land of Zabulon and the land of Nephtali was lightly touched:
and at the last the way of the sea... was heavily loaded. (Is 9,1)
This is the three days of which Moses says in Exodus: We will go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, to sacrifice unto the Lord our God (Ex 3,18). At the first time (the infusion of grace which goes first before the sinner) the earth (his mind) is lightly touched (in contrition for the burden of sin). Then it is ‘the land of Zabulon’ (‘dwelling of strength’). He in whom grace dwells is supported by the strength of constancy. Whence Isaiah says:
It is he that giveth strength to the weary,
and increaseth force and might to them that are not. (Is 40,29)
He is ‘lightened’ also in confession, when he lays down sin and its circumstances. Then he is ‘the land of Nephtali’ (‘widening’). The sinner’s mind is widened in confession, as the Lord said to Jacob in Genesis:
Thou shalt spread abroad to the east and to the west, and to the north and to the south. (Gn 28,14)
Note that the priest in confession should set four things before the sinner: whether he grieves and sorrows for the things he has done or left undone; whether he will humbly fulfil the penance enjoined upon him by the priest; whether he has a firm intention to sin mortally no more; and whether he will satisfy his neighbour, forgive him from his heart, and love him. If he is willing to do these four things, then he should enjoin a penance on him and absolve him; otherwise, not. When he grieves and sorrows, he ‘spreads to the east’, being enlightened by the sun of justice. When he is willing to obey the will and voice of the priest, he ‘spreads to the west’: he ‘sets’ as regards himself, when he subjects himself to another. When he has the firm intention not to fall again, he ‘spreads to the north’, by which the devil’s temptation is understood. He ‘turns north’ when he resists the devil’s assault. "An enemy who fights well, makes you fight well." When he wants to love his neighbour, he ‘spreads to the south’, whereby we understand the warmth of charity.
If in this way he goes two days’ journey, he will be able to reach the third, of which it was said: At the last the way of the sea was heavily loaded (that is, gravely afflicted). The ‘way of the sea’ is the satisfaction of penance, which is truly bitter. So Isaiah says:
The drink shall be bitter to them that drink it. (Is 24,9)
In the first two, the soul is lightened; in the third, the flesh is gravely afflicted indeed. So St Gregory says, "It was needful that the flesh, which light heartedly led the way to guilt, should with affliction lead back to pardon." This is the way by which the Lord comes to the soul. Blessed is he who thus prepares; he says: My heart is ready, O God, etc. (Ps
(For religious, priests and prelates: The paths of justice; and: You shall be called priests of the Lord; and: In that day I will call.)
7. There follows: Make straight the paths of our God (Lc 3,4). Isaiah says:
The way of the just is right; the path of the just is right to walk in. (Is 26,7)
A ‘way’ is the means by which we go. The ‘way’ is any religious order which restricts and restrains itself by vows of poverty, continence and obedience. So Isaiah says:
The bed is straitened so that one must fall out:
and a short covering cannot cover both. (Is 28,20)
The ‘bed’ is religious life, which when narrowed down like a path will have room only for the bridegroom of chastity and the spirit of obedience, and will push out the adulterer of fornication and the vice of disobedience. Further, the ‘short covering’ of poverty cannot cover both the spirit of ownership and of poverty. What concord hath Christ and Belial? (2Co 6,15). What is there in common between the poor man and the possessive man, who is like Belial among the sons of God? Make straight, then, you religious, the paths of our God.
8. The first part of the Epistle is concordant to this first clause:
Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the ministries of God. (1Co 4,1)
You shall be called the priests of the Lord, ministers of our God. (Is 61,6)
Prelates and preachers are ministers and dispensers, who minister the word of the Lord, and preach the baptism of penitence for the remission of sins. Isaiah says:
How beautiful (being clean from the dust of sin)
upon the mountains (of virtue)
are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,
and that preacheth peace (the reconciliation of God and man),
of him that sheweth forth good (the infusion of grace)
that preacheth salvation (blessedness of life),
that saith to Sion (the soul):
Thy God shall reign (in thee, rather that sin)! (Is 52,7)
Here now it is required among the dispensers, that a man be found faithful. (1Co 4,2) The Lord says of the faithful dispenser:
In that day I will call my servant Eliacim, the son of Helcias, and I will clothe him with thy robe,
and will strengthen him with thy girdle,
and will give thy power into his hand:
and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and to the house of Juda. (Is 22,20-21)
Eliacim means ‘resurrection of God’, and represents the faithful dispenser of the Church, by whom God raises the sinner to penitence. He is ‘son of Helcias’ (‘justice’), clad in the robe of mercy and strengthened with the girdle of continence, and is like a father to all the faithful of the Church. Where can such a faithful dispenser be found today? Alas, as Isaiah says:
How is the (once) faithful city, that was full of judgement, become a harlot?
Justice dwelt in it, but now murderers.
Thy silver is turned into dross: thy wine is mingled with water.
Thy princes are faithless, companions of thieves: they all love bribes, they run alter rewards.
They judge not for the fatherless, and the widow’s cause cometh not into them. (Is 1,75)
The ‘silver’ (the eloquence of prelates and preachers) is turned into the ‘dross’ of vainglory. The ‘wine’ of preaching is mixed with the ‘water’ of flattery and of temporal reward. The rest needs no interpretation: it speaks for itself.
Let us ask the Lord Jesus Christ, beloved brothers, to send us the word of his inspiration, and to wash us in the baptism of penitence: that we may prepare his way and make straight his paths. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
(On the second clause.
The theme for a sermon on humility: Every valley shall be filled.)
9. There follows, secondly: Every valley shall be filled. (Lc 3,5)
This is what the Lord says in Isaiah:
To whom shall I have respect,
but to him that is poor and little and of a contrite spirit,
and that trembleth at my words? (Is 66,2)
The valley is humility of mind, of which Jeremiah says:
See thy ways in the valley; (Jr 2,23)
that is, know your sins in two-fold humility. Humility shows a man to himself; whence Isaiah says:
The Lord shall be known by Egypt:
and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day. (Is 19,21)
In the clear daylight of humility, the Egyptians (proud dwellers in darkness) know the Lord, and so, conversely, know themselves. So St Augustine says, "Lord, grant me to know you and myself!" And Isaiah, after he had seen the Lord, said to himself:
Woe is me, because I have held my peace;
because I am a man of unclean lips. (Is 6,5)
And the Lord said to Ezekiel:
Son of man, shew to the house of Israel the temple (Jesus Christ), and let them be ashamed of their iniquities. (Ez 43,10)
So every valley shall be filled with that grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies (cf. Jn 12,24), and of which the Psalm says:
The vales shall abound with corn. (Ps 64,14)
Blessed Mary, being a ‘valley’, was filled; and of her fulness all we empty ones have received (cf. Jn 1,16). So the Psalm says:
We shall be filled with the richness of thy house. (Ps 35,9 Ps 64 Ps 5)
Only the humble shall be filled with that richness which the Lord promises in Leviticus:
I will give you rain in due seasons,
and the ground shall bring forth its increase,
and the trees shall be filled with fruit. (Lv 26,3-4)
The Lord ‘gives rain’ when he infuses the grace of compunction. So Isaiah says:
Rain shall be given to thy seed, wheresoever thou shalt sow in the land, (Is 30,23)
which brings forth its increase. From the rain of compunction there springs up the crop of good will, and so the ‘trees’ (the bodily senses) are filled with the fruit of good works.
(On the three-fold state of good people: Eat this year.)
10. There is a concordance to this in Isaiah, where he says to Ezechias:
Eat this year the things that spring of themselves, and in the second year eat fruits;
but in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. (Is
Note that the condition of the good is three-fold, represented by these three years, namely beginners, proficients and perfect. Beginners, with free and prevenient grace, eat what springs of itself. This is what the Lord says in Hosea: I will love them freely (Os 14,5). With no previous merits, they are refreshed by grace by God's kindness alone. So St Bernard says, "Sometimes the affection of pure prayer, and the good sweetness of affection, is not found; but, as it were, it finds him. When he is not seeking, nor asking, nor knocking, and as it were knows not, grace comes beforehand. As a people of slaves is received at the children's table, the mind all untaught and just beginning is taken up into that affection of prayer which is usually given as the reward of holiness to the merits of the perfect." Again, the proficient, as if in the second year, eat the fruits of good works, so that the good will which was first in the affection, is now in effective action. The perfect are those who, as it were in the third year, abound in every way with a plentiful crop. So the Psalm says:
Thou shalt bless the crown of the year (the perfect life of the just) of thy goodness: and thy fields shall be filled with plenty. (Ps 64,12)
This filling is the visitation spoken of in the Introit of today’s Mass:
Remember us, O Lord, in the favour of thy people. (Ps 105,4)
This is what Isaiah speaks of:
Look down from heaven and behold;
from thy holy habitation and the place of thy glory. (Is 63,15)
Be not very angry, O Lord, and remember no longer our iniquity: behold, see, we are all thy people. (Is 64,9)
Visit us with thy salvation, (Ps 104,4)
that is, in your Son; that the valleys may be filled with corn.
(On the punishment of the proud: Thy pride is brought down to hell.)
11. There follows: And every mountain and hill shall be brought low. (Lc 3,5)
This is what Isaiah says:
Thy pride is brought down to hell: thy carcass is fallen down.
Under thee shall the moth be strewed, and worms shall be thy covering. (Is 14,11)
Note these two things: the mountain and the hill. The ‘mountain’ is pride in the heart, the ‘hill’ is pride in action. The former is greater than the latter. So Isaiah says:
We have heard of the pride of Moab, he is exceeding proud.
His pride and his arrogancy and his indignation is more than his strength. (Is 16,6)
The Interlinear Gloss explains, "His ambition is greater than his power."
Therefore shall Moab howl to Moab: every one shall howl. (ibid)
That is, in hell the proud shall howl to the proud, and the lustful to the lustful, and they shall all cry out against each other. So Isaiah says:
The hairy ones shall cry out to one another. (Is 34,14)
He shall bring down them that dwell on high: the high city he shall lay low.
He shall bring it down even to the ground: he shall pull it down even to the dust. (Is 26,5)
So he says again:
The crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim shall be trodden under the feet- (Is 28,3) of demons, that is. And again:
Sit thou silent and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called the lady of kingdoms. (Is 47,5)
Thus, Every mountain and hill shall be brought low.
(On the Incarnation of the Word, and its purpose: O that thou wouldst rend the heavens.)
12. This may be explained, alternatively, in reference to the virtue of humility. Isaiah, desiring the Advent of Christ and foreseeing his humility, says:
O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and wouldst come down.
the mountains would melt away at thy presence.
They would melt as at the burning of fire,
the waters would burn with fire. (Is 6,
See with what great desire he burns, wanting the heavens to be rent, so that he might see the invisible visible in the flesh! Let the heavens rent, let the Word come down, from whose face the pride of the mountains will melt away. ‘From your face’, the presence of your humanity, the mountains would melt away. Who he be so proud, arrogant and puffed up, if he attends closely to majesty emptied, power made weak and wisdom crying like a child? Is it not his heart that melts, like wax in the face of fire? (Ps 67,3) And who will say with the prophet, In thy truth (in thy humbled Son, O Father) thou
hast humbled me?
And as at the burning of a fire, like wood, straw or stubble, the avaricious will melt. Who is so miserly, if he well considers the Son of God, wrapped in swathing bands, lying in a manger, having no-where to lay his head, save where he bowed his head and gave up his spirit? (Jn 19,30) Will he not melt away from love of earthly things, and all his wealth will be turned to ashes as by a burning fire? And will not the ‘waters’ (the lustful, who daily by their faults tend towards hell) burn with the fire of the Holy Spirit, who dries up the moisture of lust and confers the grace of continence?
13. There follows: And the crooked shall be made straight. (Lc 3,5)
This is what Isaiah says;
Let the wicked forsake his (crooked) way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord; and he will have mercy on him. (Is 55,7)
The heart of man is perverse and unsearchable. Who can know it? (Jr 17,9)
Isaiah says of this perversity:
He went away wandering in his own heart, (Is 57,17)
a fugitive like Cain, to whom it was said: A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be upon the earth (Gn 4,12), in the path of his own crooked action. The crooked heart is made straight, when what Isaiah says comes about:
Return, ye transgressors, to the heart. (Is 46,8)
That is, return to understanding, you who have lived like beasts. And again:
Return as you had deeply revolted, O children of Israel. (Is 31,6)
If you seek, seek: return, come. (Is 21,12)
That is, if you seek my help in adversity, seek it also in prosperity. Turn again to me in heart, and come in your deeds.
There follows: And the rough ways plain. (Lc 3,5)
This is what Isaiah says:
They shall feed in the ways: and their pastures shall be in every plain.
They shall not hunger, nor thirst: neither shall the heat nor the sun strike them.
For he that is merciful to them shall be their shepherd,
and at the fountains of waters he shall give them drink. (Is 49,9-10)
The rough ways are the hearts of violent men, which become plain when they are rendered meek and gentle. This is what it says in the fourth book of Kings, where Isaiah says:
Bring me a lump of figs. And when they had brought it, and laid it upon Ezechias’ boil, he was healed. (2R 20,7)
The ulcer in the flesh represents violence in the mind; the lump of figs is meekness and a gentle disposition, which is the cure for the ulcer of violence. Whence it says in Proverbs:
by patience a prince shall be appeased:
and a soft tongue shall break hardness. (Pr 25,15)
There follows: And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Lc 3,6)
That is, every man shall see Jesus Christ in the judgement. The wicked will see, to their shame, the one they have pierced (cf. Jn 19,37); whence Isaiah says:
In the land of the saints he hath done wicked things:
and he shall not see the glory of the Lord. (Is 26,10)
The Septuagint translates:
The wicked man shall be taken away, so that he may not see the brightness of God.
The just, however, as Isaiah says, shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall convert Sion (Is 52,8).
14. The second part of the Epistle is concordant to this second clause: Judge not before the time (1Co 4,5). This is against those who, as Isaiah says:
Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil:
that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. (Is 5,20)
Until the Lord come. Whence Isaiah:
Behold, the Lord God shall come with strength: and his arm shall rule.
Behold, his reward (universal retribution) is with him, and his work is before him; (Is 40,10)
that is, his Cross and the instruments of his Passion whereby he has worked salvation in the midst of the earth (Ps 73,12), to the shame of the reprobate.
Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness;
of which Isaiah says:
The light of Israel shall be as a fire, and the Holy One thereof as a flame. (Is 10,17)
A light to enlighten, a fire to test, a flame to burn up.
And will make manifest the counsel of the hearts, as Isaiah says:
Because the daughters of Sion are haughty (with proud hearts)
and have walked with stretched-out necks (arrogance in demeanour)
and wanton glances of their eyes (lust)
and made a noise as they walked with their feet,
and moved in a set pace (showing frivolity and fickleness):
then on the Day of Judgement:
The Lord will make bald the crown of the head of the daughters of Sion (he will lay bare what is hidden, and expose the shame of baldness):
and the Lord will discover their hair (their thoughts and schemes).
This is the disgrace of the wicked.
But then, when all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Lc 3,6), every just man shall have praise from God (1Co 4,5). So Isaiah says:
Say to the just man that it is well. (Is 3,10)
Because that praise and glory of the saints cannot be expressed, Isaiah does not say how great it is, or what it is like, but just says: It is well.
Let us then, beloved brothers, ask the Lord Jesus Christ to bring low the mountains, make straight the crooked, and smooth the rough ways: that we may merit to attain to that 'well' which the eye does not see because it is hidden, nor the ear hear because it is quiet, nor does it enter the heart of man, because it is incomprehensible. May he grant this, who was humble in his first coming, but who in his second will be terrible, loveable, sweet and desirable, and blessed for ever and ever. Let every humble soul say: Amen. Alleluia.
Anthony_Sermons - (FIRST CLAUSE)