Anthony_Sermons - (FIRST CLAUSE)
1 cf. AUGUSTINE, Soliloquiorum 11,1,1; PL 32.885
2 OVID, Remedia amoris, 323-324
3 cf. AUGUSTINE, De Genesi ad litteram, VI,12,22; PL 34.348
4 AUGUSTINE, Enchiridion, 76; PL 40.268
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P.Spilsbury
(The second Gospel is for Sexagesima: The sower went out to sow. The Introit of the Mass: Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord? The Epistle: You gladly suffer. The History of Noah and his ark.)
(First, a sermon for preachers. The supreme preacher: Isaac sowed in the land of Gerar.)
1. The sower went out to sow his seed (Lc 8,5)
This is what Isaiah says to preachers:
Blessed are ye that sow upon all waters. (Is 32,20)
According to St John,
The waters are peoples; (Ap 17,15) and Solomon writes:
All the rivers run into the sea;
unto the place from whence the rivers come, they return again. (Qo 1,7)
This suggests the two-fold bitterness of original sin and bodily death. For just as the rivers originate in the salty sea, so the peoples of the earth arise in the bitterness of original sin. David says:
Behold, I was conceived in iniquities, (Ps 50,7)
and St Paul says:
We were by nature children of wrath. (Ep 2,3)
And just as the rivers return to the sea, so human life ends in the bitterness of death. In the words of Ecclesiasticus:
A heavy yoke is upon the children of Adam,
from the day of their coming out of their mothers’ womb
until the day of their burial in the mother of all, (Si 40,1)
0 death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee! (Si 41,1)
The Lord himself says to the sinner, You are earth, ‘soiled’ in your very conception, and to earth you will return (cf. Gn 3,9) at the dissolution of your body. Let all this be as it were a background to the text, Blessed are ye that sow upon all waters.
The seed, as our Lord himself explains in today’s Gospel, is the Word of God. I pray that
1 myself may be found worthy to share in the blessedness of the blessed! That is why I wish to cast seed upon you, in the name of Jesus Christ. He went forth from the bosom of the Father, and entered the world to sow his seed. The God of the New Testament is one and the same as the God of the Old, and is indeed Jesus Christ the Son of God. We may apply to him the words of Isaiah:
I myself that spoke, behold, I am here. (Is 52,6)
I spoke to the fathers in the prophets; I am here in the truth of the Incarnation. That is the justification for seeking to concord the scriptures of both Testaments, to God’s honour and for the benefit of you, my hearers. Let us say, then, A sower went out to sow, etc.
2. This Sunday we read in Church the Gospel of the sower and the seed, while at Mattins we tell the story of Noah and how he built the ark. In the Introit of the Mass we sing, Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord? and in St Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians we read, You gladly suffer the foolish. These are the texts we must concord, in the Lord’s name.
In the Gospel of the sower there are six things in particular for us to take note of: the sower, the seed, the wayside, the stony ground, the thorns and the good soil. In the same way there are six points in the story of Noah: Noah himself, and the ark with its five compartments, called the bilges (or ‘dung-hold’), the store-hold, the deck of the wild animals, that of the domestic animals, and that for human beings and birds. But note carefully that in this concordance the fourth and fifth will be taken as one. Let it be said, then: The sower went out, etc.
(A sermon on the making of the ark of Noah, and what it means: Make thee an ark.)
3. The sower stands both for Christ and for whoever preaches Christ. The seed is God’s Word; the wayside those who live for pleasure; the stony ground those who make a pretence of religion; the thorns the greedy and covetous; and the good soil those who are penitent and righteous. This interpretation, as I say, is based on the recognised authorities.
The sower is Christ. You have in Genesis:
Isaac sowed in the land of Gerar, and that same year he received an hundredfold.
Isaac (whose name means ‘joy’ or ‘laughter’) may be taken as standing for Christ, who is the joy of the saints- those saints who, according to Isaiah, shall obtain joy and gladness (Is 35,10). Joy from the glorified humanity of Christ, and gladness from the vision of the divine Trinity. Christ our Isaac ‘sowed in the land of Gerar’, the land of exile. This refers to the world, of which the prophet says:
Woe is me that my sojourning is prolonged! (Ps 119,5)
(meaning, ‘my pilgrimage’). In the land of Gerar, in this world, he sows three sorts of seed: the example of his holy life, his preaching of the kingdom of heaven, and the miracles he performed.
And that same year he received a hundredfold. The whole life of Christ constitutes ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ of remission and goodwill. Just as a year has four seasons, winter, spring, summer and autumn, so Christ’s life falls into four phases. It begins in winter, with Herod’s persecution and the flight into Egypt. Its spring is the period of his preaching, when
the flowers appear in the earth,
in the promise of eternal life, and
the voice of the turtle is heard in our land, (Ct 2,12)
the voice of the Son of God, who cried out:
Do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand! (Mt 4,17)
The summer’s heat stands for the Passion, after Isaiah’s words:
He meditated with his severe spirit on the day of heat. (Is 27,8)
The ‘day of heat’ is the Passion, and he endured it in a steadfast spirit, unflinchingly suffering upon the cross, and there taking thought for the destruction of the devil, the freeing of the human race from his power, and the eternal punishment of those obstinate in sin. The same prophet uses the phrase:
The day of vengeance is in my heart. (Is 63,4)
Autumn refers to the Resurrection, when his humanity was harvested, winnowed from the chaff of suffering and the dust of mortality, and stored in the barn, the right hand of God the Father. How appropriate the words, In the same year he received a hundredfold, for he chose the apostles to whom he said: Ye shall receive an hundredfold (Mt 19,29). He also carried home upon his own shoulders, fastened to the cross- carried home rejoicing- the hundredth sheep, the human race, to join the company of the nine orders of angels. Yes, indeed! The sower is clearly Christ!
4. Christ is also symbolised by Noah, to whom God said:
Make thee an ark of timber planks; thou shalt make in the ark little rooms, and thou shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And thus shalt thou make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.
The name Noah means ‘rest’, and again refers to Jesus Christ who said in the Gospel:
Come to me all you that labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. (Mt 11,28)
We labour in Egypt, in the mud of lust and the bricks of avarice; and we are burdened with the heavy yoke of pride. Genesis says:
This same shall comfort us from the works and labours of our hands on the ground which the Lord hath cursed. (Gn 5,29)
the Father said, Make thee an ark. This ark represents the Church. Christ, then, went out to sow his seed, and he also went out to build his Church. He built it of ‘smoothed’ wood, meaning those who are holy, pure and perfect. He lined it with the pitch of mercy and love, both within- that is, in their inner affections- and without, in the effect of their works. The length is three hundred cubits. The Church contains three categories of people- prelates, religious and married people- who are represented by Noah, Daniel and Job. The width is fifty cubits. This reminds us of the Church’s penitents, because it was on the fiftieth day after the Passover that grace was poured out on the apostles by the Holy
Spirit. It is also in the fiftieth psalm, Have mercy on me, O God, that remission of sins is promised to those who are penitent. The height is thirty cubits, and this reminds us of the ordinary faithful of the Church, who believe in the Holy Trinity. In short, then, Christ goes out from the bosom of the Father and comes into the world to sow his seed and to build his Church, in which the incorruptible and everlasting harvest is to be stored.
5. There follows, regarding the seed: The seed is the word of God, to which Solomon is referring when he says: In the morning sow thy seed (Qo 11,6). In the morning- that is to say, in the time of grace which drives away the darkness of sin. That is the time, O preacher, to sow your seed, that Word which has been entrusted to you. The seed which is sown in the ground germinates and grows,
first the blade, then the ear, afterwards the full corn in the ear, (Mc 4,28)
as our Lord says in St Mark’s Gospel. In the same way, the Word of God sown in the heart of a sinner first produces the blade of contrition. We read in Genesis,
Let the earth bring forth the green herb, (Gn 1,11)
and in the same way the heart of a sinner brings forth contrition. Then comes the ‘ear’ which is confession. Confession lifts up the soul by giving her the hope of forgiveness. Finally, the ‘full corn in the ear’ is satisfaction. The Psalmist says,
The vales shall abound with corn. (Ps 64,14)
The humble and penitent bring forth the fulness of satisfaction, so that penalty and fault are in due proportion. Well said, then: The sower went out to sow his seed.
(A sermon against the lustful: And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside.)
6. But not everyone is faithful! Not everyone obeys the Gospel! That is why the parable continues:
And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. (Lc 8,5)
The bottom-most chamber of Noah’s ark, traditionally, is the bilge or ‘dung-hold’. The pathway trodden under foot and this ‘dung-hold’ have the same meaning. They stand for those who pursue the pleasures of lust. Solomon says:
Every woman that is a harlot shall be trodden like dung upon the path, (Si 9,10) and Isaiah has this rebuke for the lustful:
Thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as a way to them that went over. (Is 51,23)
This refers to the devils, who as they pass tread down the seed so that it does not germinate. Isaiah says again:
The crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim shall be trodden under feet. (Is 28,31)
Ephraim means ‘fruitful’, and it stands for the abundance of temporal goods. The drunkards are the pleasure-seekers who are inebriated with the gold chalice of Babylon, temporal abundance; and the crown of pride on the head is the haughty thought of a corrupt mind. This will be trodden by the feet of the demons when the impure thought issues in the besotted action of lust. Indeed, the seed of the Lord cannot germinate in such accursed soil!
The demons are also referred to as ‘fowls of the air’, because of their pride and because they are supposed to dwell in the air. They seize and devour the seed from the lustful hearts, lest it bear fruit. Hosea says:
Strangers have devoured his strength, (Os 7,9)
meaning that the demons have eaten the strength of the divine word. Notice also that the seed is said to have fallen by, rather than in, the wayside, because the lustful man does not receive the word within his heart’s ear, but as a mere sound that lightly passes by the ear of his body. Such folk are the ‘dung-hold’, stinking like oxen in their dung. The Psalmist says of them:
They perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth. (Ps 82,11)
Endor means ‘the fire of generation’, that is, ‘the heat of lust’. From this dung four worms are generated, namely: simple fornication, adultery, incest, and sin against nature.
Simple fornication is a mortal sin between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman.
It is called ‘fornication’ from formae necatio, the death of the soul made in the likeness of God. Adultery (alterius torum) is the sin of approaching the marriage-bed of another. Incest is sin between those closely related by blood or marriage. Sin against nature refers to any act whereby the semen is ejaculated other than in the proper place for conception, the vagina of a woman. All these are ‘the way trodden down by demons’, the ‘dung-hold of the ark’. In them the seed of the divine word perishes and is snatched away by the devil.
(A sermon against false religious: And some fell upon a rock.)
7. There follows:
And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. (Lc 8,6)
The second chamber in Noah’s ark is the store-hold, and both rock and store-hold stand for false religious. The rock, because they glory in the excellence of their religion; the store-hold, because they exchange what is truly valuable in their lives for the coin of human praise. Some fell upon a rock is a phrase recalling the words of the prophet Obadiah rebuking a proud religious man:
The pride of thy heart hath lifted thee up,
who dwellest in the clefts of the rock,
who setteth up thy throne on high. (Ab 1,3)
Pride (superbia, from super-eo, ‘go above’), the pride of your heart, O you religious man, has lifted you up out of yourself, so that in vanity you go above yourself and dwell in the clefts of the rock! The ‘rock’ refers to the religious state in the Church (of any Order), recalling the words of Jeremiah:
The snow shall never fail from the rock of the field. (Jr 18,14)
The field is the Church, the rock of the field is the religious life founded upon the rock of faith, and the snow is cleanness of mind and heart which should never be lacking from that state. But alas, alas! How many clefts, splits, divisions and dissensions are in the rock, in religious life! If the seed of the divine word falls here, it bears no fruit because it does not have the moisture of the Holy Spirit, which does not dwell in the clefts of discord but in the habitations of unity.
They were of one heart and one soul, (Ac 4,32)
says St Luke. Truly there are clefts where there is strife in Chapter, carelessness in choir, wantonness in the dormitory! How well the Lord says And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up it withered away, because (in St Matthew’s words) it had no root, meaning humility which is the root of all virtues. See how obvious it is that divisions in religious life come from pride of heart! Without the root of humility, how can it bear fruit?
Such religion is just a warehouse, the ‘store-hold of the ark’. After internal division comes a hankering for worldly praise. Like shop-keepers in the market-place, false religious sell goods that are just showy. Under the religious habit, disguised by a false appearance, they seek praise. They make a pretence of perfection among men, seeking to pose as saints without the trouble of actually being saints! What a disgrace! Religious life should preserve the beauty of virtue, the sweet smell of a good life- yet it is destroyed and made
a place of barter! This is what Joel deplores when he says:
The barns are destroyed, the storehouses are broken down; because the corn is confounded. (Jl 1,17)
We may apply these words to the cloisters of canons and the monasteries of monks. The corn, white inside and golden outside, stands for charity which maintains purity with respect to oneself and love with respect to our neighbour. This corn is so scattered that when it falls upon the rock it withers as it springs up, because it lacks the root of humility and the moisture of the sevenfold grace. See how from the loss of charity (the scattering of the grain) there follows the destruction of religious life (the barn in which it should be stored.
(A sermon against the avaricious and usurers: And some fell among thorns.)
8. There follows:
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns growing up with it, choked it. (Lc 8,7)
The third chamber in Noah’s ark is the hold of the wild, undomesticated, animals. Thorns and wild beasts have much in common! They both represent greedy and covetous people. Avarice is like thorns which catch, pierce and draw blood. Covetousness is like a wild animal that seizes and devours. When the Lord says, Some fell among thorns, he provides the gloss himself: the thorns are riches, which catch a man and hold him back. Peter, so as not be caught and held in that way, told the Lord:
Behold, we have left all things and followed thee. (Mt 19,27)
St Bernard1 comments, "Well done, Peter! You could hardly follow a running man while carrying a burden!" The thorns pierce, too. Jeremiah says:
Egypt is like a fair and beautiful heifer, but destruction cometh out of the north. (Jr 46,20)
Egypt (meaning ‘darkness’) is the avaricious man, in the darkness of ignorance. He is a ‘heifer’ both on account of his lustful flesh and of his unstable mind. He is ‘very fair’, crowded round with family and hangers-on, ‘very fair’ too with all his houses and fine raiment. But ‘destruction’ (the devil) comes from ‘the north’, for as Jeremiah says elsewhere:
From the north an evil shall break forth. (Jr 1,14)
The devil stings him with the sting of avarice, so that he runs hither and thither to gather the thorns, those riches of which Isaiah says:
As a bundle of thorns they shall be burnt with fire. (Is 33,12)
The thorn pierces, and as it pierces it draws blood. According to Moses,
The life of all flesh is in the blood. (Lv 17,14)
The lifeblood of the soul is virtue, wherein the soul lives. The avaricious man loses this lifeblood, virtue, when he sets his heart on amassing riches. Ecclesiasticus says:
There is not a more wicked thing than to love money,
for such a one setteth his own soul to sale. (Si 10,10)
The Lord says of such, Thorns sprang up and choked it, and Hosea:
The burr and the thistle shall grow up over their altars. (Os 10,8)
The burr is a weed which clings to the clothing, while the thistle troubles by pricking the skin. These ‘burrs and thistles’ are riches, which stick to the passer-by or prick him. These ‘come up on their altars’, the hearts of the covetous, upon which they ought to offer God the sacrifice of a contrite heart. They choke the seed of God’s word, and the sacrifice of a broken heart.
9. Concordant to the thorns in the parable are the wild animals in Noah’s ark, which aptly symbolise pitiless usurers. The Psalmist speaks of
The great and wide sea, wherein are creeping things without number,
creatures little and great. There the ships go. (Ps 103,25-26)
‘The sea’ is this world, full of bitterness, great with riches, wide with delights. Wide is the path that leads to death, but to whom? Not to the poor of Christ who ‘enter through the narrow gate’. Rather to grasping usurers, who have already taken the whole world into their hands. Because of their usuries, churches are impoverished and monasteries stripped of their goods. The Lord complained of them through Joel:
A nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number;
his teeth are like the teeth of a lion,
and his cheek teeth as of a lion’s whelp.
He hath laid my vineyard waste, and hath pilled of the bark from my fig tree; he hath stripped it bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white. (Jl 1,6-7)
The accursed race of usurers has multiplied upon the earth, with teeth like the teeth of a lion. The lion has two characteristics- a stiff neck containing only one bone, and stinking teeth. The usurer likewise is inflexible, neither fearing God nor regarding man. His teeth stink because the dirt of money and the dung of usury are always in his mouth. His cheek teeth, the molars, are like a lion-cub’s because he seizes the goods of the poor, of orphans and widows, chews them up and swallows them. He makes the vineyard, God’s Church, a desert when he holds onto its possessions as pledges of usury. He barks, strips and despoils the Lord’s fig tree (any religious house) when he appropriates to himself the goods given to that community by the faithful. Its branches are made white, as the monks or canons professed in it are afflicted with hunger and thirst. See the hands that purport to bestow alms, but are stained with the blood of the poor! No wonder the Psalmist speaks of creeping things without number in the world!
We may observe three kinds of usurer: those who lend money privately, who may be described as creeping things without number, those who do so openly, but only in a small way, so as to seem merciful- these are the small beasts, and the faithless, hopeless and open usurers who, as openly as in a market place, take interest from all and sundry. These are the great beasts, crueller than all the rest. They will be pursued by the demon huntsmen and slain with an eternal death, unless they restore their ill- gotten gains and do penance. To give them the opportunity to do so, there go the ships among them, the preachers of the Church who pass among them and sow the seed of God’s word. Yet, though our sins need it, the thorns of riches and the wild beasts of usury choke the word sown so devotedly, so that it does not produce the fruit of penance.
(A sermon for actives and contemplatives: And some fell on good ground.)
10. There follows:
Some fell on good ground, and being sprung up yielded fruit,some thirtyfold, some sixty-fold, some an hundred-fold. (Lc 8,8)
The fourth chamber of Noah’s ark is that containing the domesticated animals, and the fifth is that containing men and birds. You have seen, beloved, how in the previous cases- the wayside or dung-hold of the lustful, the stony ground or store-hold of the proud religious, and the thorns or wild beasts of the avaricious and usurers- the seed of God’s word could bear no fruit. That is why the faithful of God’s Church cry out in the Introit of today’s Mass:
Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord?
Arise, and cast us not off to the end: wherefore turnest thou thy face away and forgettest our want and our trouble?
Our soul is humbled down to the earth; arise, O Lord, help us and redeem us. (Ps 43,23)
Three times they say, ‘Arise!’, because of the wayside, the stony ground and the thorns. Arise, O Lord, against the lustful who are in the way of the devil, and who, because they themselves sleep in sin, believe that you sleep also! Arise against false religious, who are like stony ground devoid of the moisture of grace! Arise against the usurers, who are like piercing thorns! Help us and free us from their hands! In these three, O Lord, the seed of your word can bear no fruit. Only when it falls on good ground does it become fruitful.
11. Note how well the good ground is concordant to the domesticated animals, men and birds. These stand for righteous, penitent souls, both active and contemplative. The good earth which the Lord has blessed is that righteous mind of which the Psalmist says:
Let all the earth adore thee and sing to thee:
let it sing a psalm to thy name. (Ps 65,4)
The whole earth means east, west, north and south. The righteous mind is the eastern land when it considers its origin; the western when it remembers its death; the north when it considers the temptations and miseries of this world; and the southern when it considers eternal blessedness. So may all the earth, the good and righteous mind, worship you, O God, in spirit and in truth and in contrition of heart. This is to bring forth fruit thirty-fold. Let it praise you by confessing your name and acknowledging its own sin. This is to bring forth fruit sixty-fold. Let it sing a psalm to your name in works of satisfaction and in final perseverance. This is the perfect, hundred-fold, fruit.
12. An alternative interpretation is to take the good earth as Holy Church itself, the Ark of Noah with the domestic animals, birds and men. The domestic animals are those faithful who are married, performing works of penance, giving to the por, injuring no-one. The Apostle refers to them in today’s Epistle:
You gladly suffer the foolish; whereas you yourselves are wise. For you
suffer if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take from you, if a man be lifted up, if a man strike you on the face. (2Co 11,128)
These are they that bring forth fruit thirty-fold. ‘Men’ stand for those who are both continent and active. They are truly ‘men’, using their reason. These submit themselves to the labour of the active life, exposing themselves to danger for their neighbour’s sake, preaching eternal life by word and example, watching over themselves and those in their care. These, in St Paul’s words, are
in labour and painfulness; in much watchings; in hunger and thirst; in fastings often; in cold and nakedness, etc. (2Co 11,27)
These bring forth fruit sixty-fold. The ‘birds’ in the upper part of the ark represent virgins and contemplatives, who are lifted up on the wings of virtue, and contemplate the King in his beauty. These are taken up into the air (in mind rather than in body), rapt in contemplation to the third heaven, contemplating the glory of the Trinity in pureness of spirit, where they hear with the heart’s ear what they cannot express in words, or even comprehend with their mind. these are they that bear fruit a hundred-fold.
0 Lord Jesus, make us, we pray, that good earth which is able to receive the word of your grace and to bear fruit, fruit worthy of repentance. So may we be found worthy to live eternally in your glory, in your presence; you who are blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
1 cf. BERNARD (=GAUFRIDUS), Declamationes, 2; PL 184.438
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P.Spilsbury
Translated by Paul Spilsbury
(The third Gospel, for Quinquagesima: A blind man sat by the wayside.) (PROLOGUE)
(First, a sermon for preachers: Samuel took.)
1. A blind man sat by the way-side, and cried: Son of David, have mercy on me. (Lc 18,35)
The First Book of Kings tells how
Samuel took a little vial of oil; and poured it upon Saul’s head. (1S 10,1)
The name Samuel means ‘asked for’, and signifies the preacher who is asked for by the Church from Jesus Christ, who says in the Gospel:
Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest. (Mt 9,38)
He must take a vial of oil (a four-sided vessel, representing the teaching of the four-fold Gospel), and from it he must pour the oil of preaching upon the head of Saul, that is, the mind of the sinner. Saul means ‘misuse’, and is a suitable name for the sinner who misuses the gifts of grace and of nature.
Note that oil both anoints and gives light. In the same way preaching anoints and softens the skin of the sinner (his conscience), ‘grown old in evil days’ (cf. Da 13,52) and hardened by sin. It anoints the athlete of Christ, and sends him forth to the contest, to do battle against the powers of the air. Just so, in the third book of Kings, Zadok anointed Solomon in Gihon. Zadok is ‘righteous’, meaning the preacher who, like a priest, offers sacrifice upon the altar of the Lord’s Passion. He anoints Solomon (‘peaceful’) in Gihon (‘struggle’). The preacher, with the oil of preaching, must anoint the converted sinner for the struggle, so that he does not give in to the suggestions of the devil, treads down the allurements of the flesh, and despises the deceitful world. Oil also gives light, and preaching enlightens the eye of reason, so that it becomes capable of seeing the light of the true sun. In the name of Jesus Christ, then, I will take up the vial of the holy Gospel, and from it I will pour the oil of preaching, to enlighten the eyes of that blind man of
whom it is said: A blind man sat.
2. This Sunday we read the Gospel of the enlightening of the blind man, which also speaks of the Passion of Christ. In the Office we read the story of Abraham’s wanderings and the sacrifice of his son Isaac. The Introit at Mass is, Be thou my God and defender, and the Epistle (from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians) is, If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. So, for the honour of God and the enlightenment of your soul, let us concord all these things!
(A sermon against the proud man: A blind man sat; and on the property of a nest, and of menstrual blood.)
3. A blind man sat. Passing over all the other blind men who had their sight restored, we will mention only three. The first is the man in the Gospel, blind from birth, whose sight was restored with mud and spittle. The second is Tobias, blinded by the swallow’s dung, but cured by the fish’s gall. The third is the Bishop of Laodicea, to whom the Lord says in the Apocalypse:
Thou knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold, fire-tried, that thou mayest be made rich and mayest be clothed in white garments; and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear. And anoint thy eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. (Ap 3,17 Ap 18)
We shall explore the meaning of each of these.
The man blind from birth is the human race, blinded by our first parents. Taking this story allegorically, Jesus enlightened the blind man when he spat on the ground and spread mud on his eyes. Spittle (coming from the head) represents the divine nature; earth is human nature. The mixture of spittle and dust is the union of the divine and human natures, by which the whole human race was restored to light. This is also the meaning of the blind man’s words as he sat by the way-side and cried out, Have mercy on me, (referring to the divinity), Son of David, (referring to his humanity).
4. Morally. The blind man stands for the proud man, whose pride is described like this by the prophet Obadiah:
Though thou be exalted as an eagle,
and though thou set thy nest among the stars:
thee will I bring down, says the Lord. (Ab 1,4)
The eagle, which flies higher than any other bird, represents the proud man, who seeks to seem higher than everyone else, by the two wings of arrogance and vainglory. To him is said, If among the stars (that is, among the saints who in this dark world shine like stars in the firmament) you set your place (your life), Thence I will bring you down, says the Lord. The proud man tries to establish the nest of his life in the company of the saints; which is why Job says:
The wing of the ostrich is like the wings of the heron and of the hawk. (Jb 39,13)
The ostrich is the hypocrite, the hawk the just man. A nest has three characteristics: it is lined with soft material inside, but it is hard and prickly outside, and it is set precariously, exposed to the wind. In the same way the life of the proud man has a certain inner softness, sensual pleasure; but outwardly it is all girt about with the thorns and dry sticks of dead works. Moreover, it is exposed to the wind of vanity, and set precariously, for the man does not know from evening to morning when he will be taken from the midst of it. So these words follow: Thence I will bring you down. I will pull you out of it and thrust you to the depths, says the Lord; and in the Apocalypse he says:
As much as she hath glorified herself and lived in delicacies,
so much torment and sorrow give ye to her. (Ap 18,7)
5. Note that the blind, proud man is enlightened by spittle and mud. The spittle stands for his father’s seed, which was emitted into the sorrowful frame of his mother, wherein the wretched man was conceived. Pride would not have blinded him if he had but paid attention to the lowly circumstances of his origin. Isaiah says:
Look unto the rock whence you are hewn,
and to the hole of the pit from which you are dug out. (Is 51,1)
We may regard ‘the rock’ as a reference to our father according to the flesh; while ‘the hole of the pit’ refers to our mother’s body. From him we are hewn out in the effusion of seed; from her we are dug out in the pain of child-birth. What is there to be proud of, wretched man, begotten from vile spittle and created in an abhorrent pit, where for nine months you were nourished with the blood of menstruation? If this blood touches the crops they will not ripen; the vintages turn sour, plants die, trees lose their fruit. Iron becomes rusty and bronze is tarnished. If dogs consume it they become rabid, and their bite becomes deadly, causing madness. Indeed, even women (when there is no need, and though they are subject to the laws of their nature) may not gaze upon it with guiltless eyes. Mirrors crack as if struck by lightning, and the bright reflection is beclouded and darkened. If only you would attentively ponder these things, wretched man, proud blind man, and remember that you are born of ‘spittle and mud’, in very truth you would be enlightened, and you would become truly humble.
And to confirm the foregoing interpretation of Isaiah, that it is a reference to carnal generation, the following verse makes it clear:
Look unto Abraham your father and to Sarah that bare you.
The Lord tells the proud blind man to
Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house. (Gn 12,1)
There are three sorts of pride: towards inferiors, towards equals and towards superiors. The proud man treads underfoot, despises and mocks. He treads on his inferiors as on the ground (indeed, he ‘grinds them down’). He despises his equals ("familiarity breeds contempt") and has no difficulty in looking down on those close to him. He even mocks his superior, whom he should respect as his father. The superior may well be termed ‘his father’s house’, because he should be subject to him as a son in the paternal home.
Here there is shelter from the rain of carnal lust, the storm of devilish persecution and the heat of worldly prosperity. But the blind, proud man turns up his nose and pulls a face at his superior; so the Lord says "Go out, O proud blind man! Go out from your country, lest you tread on your inferior. Go out from your kindred, lest you despise your equals. Go out from your father’s house, lest you mock your superior."
6. There follows: And go into the land which I will show you. This land is the humanity of Jesus Christ, of which the Lord is speaking when he tells Moses, in Exodus,
Put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. (Ex 3,5)
The shoes are dead works, which you must put off your feet (the affections of your mind) because the ground (the humanity of Jesus Christ on which you stand by faith) is holy and sanctifies you, sinner that you are. Go then, proud man, go into the land. Consider the humanity of Christ, attend to his humility, repress the swelling of your heart. Go, I say, with steps of love. Draw near in humbleness of heart and say with the prophet,
In thy truth thou hast humbled me. (Ps 118,75)
O Father, in your Truth (that is to say, in your Son, humbled, needy and homeless) you have humbled me. He was humbled in the womb of the Virgin, needy in the manger of the sheep, and homeless on the wood of the Cross. Nothing so humbles the proud sinner as the humility of Jesus Christ’s humanity. So Isaiah says:
O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and wouldst come down.
The mountains would melt away at thy presence. (Is 64,1)
The mountains of pride melt away and fail before your face, present in the humanity of Jesus Christ, considering the head of divinity bowed down in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
Go into the land which I have pointed out to you as with a finger at the River Jordan, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Mt 3,17). You too will be my beloved in whom I am well pleased, my son adopted by grace, if only you will be humbled by the example of my co-equal Son, whom I will show you in such a way that from the shape of his life you may shape the conduct of your own life. So shaped, you will receive life and be enabled to hear the words, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Your faith has enlightened you.
(A sermon against the lukewarm and lustful: It happened one day.)
7. The second blind man is Tobias, who was blinded by the swallow’s droppings, but cured by the fish’s gall. In the Book named after him we are told:
Now it happened one day that, being wearied with burying, he came to his house and cast himself down beside the wall and slept. And as he was sleeping, hot dung out of a swallow’s nest fell upon his eyes, and he was made blind. (Tb 2,10-11)
Very briefly, we must see what is meant by Tobias, burying, the house, the wall, sleep, the nest, the swallows and their dung: Tobias is the righteous but luke-warm man; burying is doing penance; the house is the care of the body; the wall is the pleasure of the body; the sleep is the torpor of negligence; the nest is the consent of an enfeebled mind; the swallows are the demons; and their dung is greed and lust. Let us say, then: Tobias, wearied from burying, etc.
Tobias here stands for the good man who is only luke-warm. As the Lord says in the Apocalypse,
Because thou art neither cold (with the fear of punishment) nor hot (with the love of grace),
but because thou art luke-warm I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. (Ap 3,16)
Just as tepid water induces vomiting, so half-heartedness and negligence expel the lazy and luke-warm from the bowels of divine mercy. Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord negligently (cf. Jr 48,10).
Wearied from burying he comes to his house. Tired of doing penance (by means of
which he buries the corpses of mortal sin (as the Scripture says, Blessed are they whose sins are covered) he reverts to the care of the flesh and its desires, against the advice of the Apostle.
So it continues: he cast himself down beside the wall. This wall is the pleasure of the flesh. Just as in a wall one stone is laid upon another, and they are cemented together, so in fleshly pleasure the sins of the eye are added to those of the ear, and those of the ear to those of taste, and so on, and bad habit fastens them all together like mortar. So the sinner sleeps, relaxed in the torpor of carelessness, and the dung of the swallows falls upon his eyes.
The swallows, because they fly so swiftly, represent the demons whose pride seeks to soar above the stars of the sky, to the height of the clouds and to an equality with the Father like that of the Son (cf. Is 14,13-14).
The devils’ nest is the consent of an enfeebled mind, and it is made of the feathers of vainglory and the mud of wantonness. From a nest like this the droppings of greed and lust fall upon the eyes of the sleeping Tobias, and his reason and understanding, the eyes of his unhappy soul, are blinded.
8. Do be watchful, dear brethren, and beware of falling into such a sad state. First comes weariness of burying (penance), then return to the house of carnal care and, with an appearance of necessity, repose beside the wall of pleasure. While overcome by the sleep of negligence one is blinded by the dung of lust. As the poet1 says,
"If you ask why Aegisthus became an adulterer,
the reason is clear: he had nothing better to do!"
So cry out, luke-warm Tobias, you blind and lustful man lying by the wall! Cry, Have mercy on me, Son of David!
In the Introit of today’s Mass the blind man prays for enlightenment, saying, Be thou my God and defender. He prays for four things. First, in the words, Be thou my God and defender, he asks God to protect and defend him with arms outstretched on the Cross, as a hen spreads her wings over her young. Secondly, saying, and a place of refuge, he seeks in Christ’s side, pierced by the lance, a place of refuge in which to hide from the face of the enemy. Thirdly, he says, Thou art my upholder (lest I fall) and my refuge. On you I fall back, casting myself on you alone and on no other. Fourthly he says, For thy holy name’s sake be thou my leader, Son of David, so that in my blindness you reach out to me the hand of mercy, and feed me with the milk of your grace. Have mercy on me, then, Son of David!
(A sermon on the Passion of Christ: Take the entrails of the fish.)
9. The Son of God and of David, the ‘Angel of Great Counsel’, who is both the physician and the medicine of the human race, gives this counsel in the same Book of Tobias, saying:
Take the entrails of the fish, and remove its gall, and anoint thine eyes, (Tb 6,5)
and thus you will be able to regain your sight. Allegorically, the fish is Christ, who was roasted upon the grill of the Cross. Its gall is the bitterness of the Passion, whereby, if you anoint the eyes of your soul with it, you will receive your sight. The bitterness of the Lord’s Passion drives out all the blindness of lust, and all the dung of carnal desire. So a certain wise man2 says, "The remembrance of the crucified crucifies all vices," and in the Book of Ruth we read:
Dip thy morsel in the vinegar. (Rt 2,14)
This ‘morsel’ is the momentary gratification of the wretched, which you should dip into the ‘vinegar’, the bitterness of Jesus Christ’s Passion.
The Lord tells you, then, what he told Abraham in this Sunday’s reading:
Take thy son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust. (Gn 22,2)
Isaac means ‘laughter’ or ‘rejoicing’, and in the moral interpretation he represents our flesh, when it is smiled on by temporal success, and rejoices in the fulfilment of its desires. Solomon says of it:
Laughter (temporal things) I counted error
(because they cause one to wander from the way of truth);
and to mirth (the flesh) I said: Why art thou vainly deceived? (Qo 2,2)
Take your son, then, your flesh which you love and which you nourish so carefully. Wretched man, you do not realise that the plague itself is not more harmful than this enemy of your own household! Solomon says:
He that nourisheth his servant delicately from his childhood,
afterwards he shall find him stubborn. (Pr 29,21)
Take him away, take him away! He is guilty of death! And Pilate (carnal affection) asks, What evil has he done? O what evils your laughter, your son, has done! He has
despised God, scandalized his neighbour and brought death upon his own soul! And do you ask, "What evil has he done?" Take him, then, and go into the Land of Vision.
10. The Land of Vision was where Jerusalem stands, the very place spoken of in today’s Gospel:
Jesus took the twelve disciples apart, and said to them: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem. (Mt 20,17-18)
You too must take your son and go up with Jesus and his Apostles to Jerusalem, and there offer him upon the altar, by meditation upon the Lord’s Passion, by the Cross of penitence, and by the sacrifice of your body. The word used is ‘holocaust’, the burnt offering of an entire animal. You must offer your whole son, your whole body, to Jesus Christ; for he offered himself totally to God the Father, that he might destroy the whole body of sin (cf. Rm 6,6).
Note that our human body is made up of the four elements, fire, air, water and earth: fire is in the eyes, air in the mouth, water in the loins and earth in the hands and feet. In the sinner’s body, since he is a slave to sin, fire flourishes in the eyes by curiosity, air in the mouth by talkativeness, water in the loins by lust and earth in the hands and feet by cruelty. The Son of God veiled his face (on which the angels long to gaze) to restrain the curiosity of our eyes. He was dumb before, not just his shearer but his murderer, and when he was ill-treated he did not open his mouth, so as to check your talkativeness. His side was opened by the lance, so that he might draw out of you the moisture of lust. His hands and feet were fastened with nails, to drive cruelty from your hands and feet. Take your son, then, your mirth, your flesh, and offer it completely as a holocaust, so that you may be wholly on fire with charity that covers a multitude of sins.
In today’s Epistle the Apostle says:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity,
I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. (1Co 13,1)
St Augustine3 says, "Charity is the name I give to that movement of the soul to delight in God for his own sake, and in self and neighbour for God’s sake." He who lacks this, however many things he does which are in themselves good, he does them in vain. That is why the Apostle says, If I speak with the tongues of men, etc. Charity led the Son of God to the wood of the Cross. In the Canticles it says:
Love is as strong as death, (Ct 8,6)
and St Bernard4 comments on this passage, "O charity, how strong is your bond! Even
the Lord was bound by you!" So take your son, and offer him on the altar of Jesus Christ’s Passion, whose bitter gall will enlighten you, and you will hear the words, "Receive thy sight, thy faith hath saved thee " that is, it has enlightened you.
11. Alternatively. Tobias had his sight restored by the fish’s gall. Though the fish’s flesh is tasty, its gall is bitter; and if the gall is sprinkled on the flesh, it all becomes bitter. The ‘flesh’ of the fish represents the pleasure of lust; the gall hidden within it is the bitterness of eternal death. So Job, in a similar sense but in different words, says:
The root of junipers was their food. (Jb 30,4)
The root of the juniper is sweet and edible, but its leaves are thorny. In the same way the pleasure of lust seems sweet here and now, but in the end it will produce the sharp thorn of everlasting death. Take the entrails of the fish: Consider the pleasures of sin, and how vile they are. Take out the gall: Pay attention to the punishment due to sin, how unending it is and how it can turn all the pleasure of your flesh to bitterness.
(A sermon for prelates of the Church: The lips of the priest.)
12. The third blind man is the ‘Angel of Laodicea’, who was enlightened by eye-salve. Laodicea means ‘a people dear to the Lord’, and it represents Holy Church, for love of which the Lord shed his blood, and from which he chose a royal priesthood, as once he did from the tribe of Judah. The ‘angel of Laodicea’ is the bishop set over the Church. He is rightly called ‘Angel’ because of the dignity of his office. The prophet Malachi says:
The lips of the priest shall keep knowledge,
and they shall seek the Law at his mouth;
because he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts. (Ml 2,7)
Five points are to be noticed in this text, all very necessary to the bishop or Church leader. They are: life, good repute, knowledge, an abundance of charity and the vestment of purity. The ‘lips’ of a priest are two-fold: his life and his reputation. These preserve knowledge, so that he may keep safe what he knows and what he preaches. His good life benefits himself, and his reputation benefits his neighbour. From the two lips comes forth knowledge in fruitful preaching. If these three elements are eminent in the bishop, those subject to him will seek the Law of charity from his mouth. As the Apostle says;
bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the Law of Christ, (Ga 6,2)
which is charity. Christ bore the burden of our sins from charity alone, in his body on the Cross
(cf. 1P 2,24). The Law is charity, and those under a superior will look for and expect it first in his actions, so that afterwards they may get comfort and profit from his words. St Luke tells us in Acts:
Jesus began to do and to teach, (Ac 1,1) and in his Gospel:
He was powerful in deed and in word. (Lc 24,19)
13. There follows: Because he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts. See the robe of inner purity! St Jerome4 teaches that, "To live in the body, and yet to transcend the body, is the characteristic of heavenly nature, not human nature." The Lord rebukes the ‘Angel of Laodicea’, the bishop of that Church, for lacking these five virtues:
Thou art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.
You are wretched in your life, miserable in your reputation, blind in your knowledge, poor in charity and naked as regards the robe of purity. But the Lord knows how to cure a disease by its opposite. When he takes away, he also bestows. When he stings, he applies soothing ointment. So he counsels the blind bishop of Laodicea like this:
I counsel thee to buy of me gold, fire-tried, that thou mayest be made rich, and mayest be clothed in white garments; and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear. And anoint thy eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.
I counsel you to buy from me, not from the world, with the coin of good-will; to buy the gold of a virtuous life rather than the base metal of sin, gold fire-tried by charity against your need and poverty, proved by the bellows of good repute as against the stench of your bad name. Be clothed in white garments to take away the exposure of your foul deeds, and anoint your eyes with eye-salve as a remedy for the blindness of folly.
(A sermon on the Passion of Christ: He will be given up to the Gentiles, etc.)
14. This eye-salve, with which the soul’s eyes are enlightened, is made up of five aspects of our Lord’s Passion, like five herbs. They are mentioned in today’s Gospel:
He will be given up to the Gentiles and mocked, beaten and spat upon; and alter they have scourged him they will kill him.
Alas, alas! He who is the liberty of captives is made a prisoner. He who is the Glory of the angels is mocked. The God of all is scourged. The spotless mirror of the eternal Light is spat upon (cf. Sg 7,26). The Life of mortals is killed. What is there left for us poor wretches to do but go and die with him? (cf. Jn 11,16) Draw us forth from the mire, Lord Jesus, with the hook of your Cross; so that we may run, not to your sweetness (cf. Ct 1,3), but to the bitterness of your Passion. Prepare yourself an eye-salve, my soul, and give yourself to bitter weeping over the death of the Only-begotten (cf. Jr 6,26), over the Passion of the Crucified! The innocent Lord is betrayed by the disciple, mocked by Herod, scourged by the Governor, spat on by the Jewish mob and crucified by the soldiers. We will take these briefly in turn.
15. He was betrayed by his own disciple.
What will you give me, to betray him? (Mt 26,15)
The shame of it! To set a price on that which is beyond price! Alas! As the verse says, "He is shown forth; God is sold for a worthless coin." O Judas, will you sell God, the Son of God, as if he were a lowly slave, or a dead dog? And will you not even set the price yourself, but leave it to your customers? What will you give me? What can they give you? If they gave you Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria, could they buy Jesus? If they gave you the heavens and all the angels in them, earth and all mankind, the sea and all that is in it: could they pay a price worth the Son of God, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge lie hid? (Col 2,3) No! Never!
Can the Creator be bought or sold by a creature? And yet you say, What will you give me, to betray him to you? Tell me: how has he injured you, what harm has he done you, for you to say, I will betray him to you? What of the humility and voluntary poverty of the incomparable Son of God? What of his kindness and affection? What of his sweet preaching and working of miracles? His tears, so loving, shed over Jerusalem and for the death of Lazarus? What of the privilege that he chose you as an Apostle and familiar friend? Let the remembrance of these things, and others like them, soften your heart and inspire you to mercy, so that you do not say, I will betray him to you. Yet how many Judas Iscariots there are today, ‘hirelings’ according to the meaning of his name, who sell the Truth for the reward of some small temporal advantage, who sell their neighbour with the kiss of flattery, and in the end hang themselves in the pit of eternal damnation.
16. He was mocked by Herod.
Herod with his army set him at nought and mocked him, putting on him a white garment. (Lc 23,11)
The Son of God was spurned by Herod the Fox (Go, tell that fox, he said (Lc 13,32)) and his army- he to whom the hosts of angels cry Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, whom, as Daniel says, a thousand thousand serve, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him (cf. Da 7,10). He mocked him, putting on him a white garment. It is in fact the Father who clothes his Son Jesus Christ in the white garment of
his flesh, clean from every spot of sin, taken from the immaculate Virgin. God the Father glorified him, but Herod despised him. The Father put upon him a white robe, but Herod seeing him thus clad mocked him. The shame of it! It is the same today. Herod means ‘glory skin-deep’, an image of the hypocrite who takes pride in outward appearance, skin- deep; whereas the heavenly King’s daughter (the soul) is all glorious within (cf. Ps 44,14). He spurns and mocks Jesus. He spurns him when he preaches Christ crucified but does not bear his wounds in his own heart. He mocks him when he conceals himself under an outward glory so as to deceive the members of Christ. "The birdcatcher plays a sweet-sounding pipe, so as to deceive the bird."5 How many Herodians are taken in by outward glory, even today!
17. He was scourged by Pontius Pilate. John tells us that Pontius Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. (Jn 19,1)
When the overflowing scourge shall pass, you shall be trodden down by it.
Whensoever it shall pass through, it shall take you away. (Is 28,18-19)
To prevent that scourge which is eternal death and the power of the devil from treading us down, the God of all, the Son of God, was bound to a pillar like a criminal and cruelly scourged so that his blood ran down on every side.
What meekness of divine love! What patience of the Father’s kindness! How deep and unfathomable the secret of the eternal mind! You beheld your only-begotten Son, who is equal to you, Father, bound to a pillar like a criminal and torn with scourges as if he were a murderer. How could you restrain yourself? Holy Father, we thank you because by the bonds and wounds of your beloved Son we have been set free from the bonds of sin and the scourges of the devil. And yet, the shame of it! Once again Pontius Pilate scourges Jesus Christ. A weak man pretending to be strong, but full of empty words, he is like a man who makes a commitment with good intentions, but then returns to his vomit. With blasphemous mouth and cruel tongue he tears and scourges Christ in his members.
With Satan he goes out from the presence of the Lord (cf Jb 2 Jb 7), to run down his former community. He calls this one ‘proud’, and that one ‘greedy’, and to exculpate himself he passes judgement on others, covering up his own faults by blaming everyone else.
18. He was smeared with spittle by the Jews. According to Matthew,
They spat in his face and fell on him with blows, while others slapped him in the face.
Anthony_Sermons - (FIRST CLAUSE)