Anthony_Sermons - (SECOND PROLOGUE)
The devil always acts according to the same manner. In the same way that he tempted Adam in Paradise, he tempted Christ in the desert, and he tempts every christian in this world. First he tempted Adam by greed, vainglory and avarice, and overcame him by this temptation. Then he tempted Christ, the second Adam, in the same way; but in tempting he himself was overcome, because it was not just a man, but God, whom he was tempting. We share in both Adams, the first by the flesh and the second by the spirit. We must put off the old man with his actions (greed, vainglory and avarice) and put on the new man by confession and renewal, so as to restrain the unbridled heat of greed by fasting, to repress the uprising of vainglory by humble confession, and tread down the thick mud of avarice by contrition of heart. Blessed are the poor in spirit, says the Lord, meaning the humble and contrite of heart, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5,3).
24. Just as the devil tempted the Lord in the desert by greed, in the temple by vainglory and on the mountain by avarice; so he tempts us every day: by greed in the desert of fasting, by vainglory in the temple of prayer and Office, and by multiple avarice on the mount of dignity. While we fast, he tempts us by greed, wherein (as the verse goes6 ) we may sin in five ways: "Hastily, sumptuously, excessively, eagerly, carefully."
HASTILY, before the proper time;
SUMPTUOUSLY, when taste is excited though appetite is depressed, with all kinds of sauces, decorations and fancy foods.
EXCESSIVELY, when we take more food than the body needs. Gluttons say, "We are bound to fast, so let us eat at one meal enough to make up for breakfast and supper." They are like locusts who, once they settle on a tree, do not leave it until they have eaten everything. The locust is all mouth, the image of a glutton who consists entirely of a greedy belly. They lay siege to their plate as to a castle, not abandoning it until they have consumed the lot. Their belly goes on rumbling until the plate is clean!
EAGERLY, rushing upon the food and, like a man about to do battle against an army, stretching out their arms, extending their hands, and just scoffing! At the table, they behave like the proverbial dog, who wants no companion in the kitchen.
CAREFULLY, demanding dainty foods that must be prepared, Oh! so precisely. Remember the sons of Eli in I Kings, who would not take cooked meat, only raw, so as to prepare it with greater care and delicacy (cf. 1S 2,15).
25. The devil tempts us in the temple of vainglory. While we are at prayer, at Office or in preaching, we are assailed by the lances of vainglory from the devil. Alas! How often we are wounded! There are those who kneel and sigh as they pray, wanting to be noticed.
There are others who, when they sing in choir, strain their voices and warble in their throats, so as to be heard. Others again, when they preach, thunder with their voices, quote learned authors, applying them according to their own ideas, and go round in circles to be praised. Believe me, all these hirelings have received their reward already. Moses says in Leviticus:
Do not make your daughter a prostitute. (Lv 19,29)
My work is my ‘daughter’, and I prostitute it and put it in a brothel when I sell it for the coin of vainglory. In Matthew, the Lord gives this advice:
But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber and, having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret. (Mt 6,6)
When you want to pray or do some good deed (which is to pray without ceasing (cf. 1Th 5,17), enter into the secret chamber of your heart and close the door of your five senses, so as not to try to be seen, heard or praised. Luke says that Zacharias went into the Temple of the Lord at the hour of incense. At the time of prayer, which goes up like incense in the sight of the Lord, you must enter the temple of your heart and so pray to your Father; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (cf. Lc 1,9).
26. On the mountain of transitory dignity we are tempted with the sin of multiple avarice. Avarice may be not only for money, but for eminence. The more misers have, the more they want; and when promoted, the higher they are the higher they want to go. So a greater fall ruins them, because "The winds blow hardest in the highest places"7 ; and it was on the ‘high places’ that sacrifice was made to idols (cf. 1R 3,2 1R 22,44 2R 12,3 2R 14,4 2R 15,35 2Ch 20,33). Solomon says of these two,
Fire never says Enough. (Pr 30,16)
‘Fire’ (avarice for money or position) never says "Enough!", but "Give, give!" (cf. Pr 30,17). O Lord Jesus, take away these two ‘Gives’ from the prelates of your Church, take them away! >From your inheritance- which you gained by blows, spitting, scourging, the cross, nails, vinegar, gall and spear- they take pleasure and glory on the mountain of ecclesiastical dignity.
Let us, then- who take the name Christian from Christ- with singlehearted devotion pray Jesus Christ the Son of God, and earnestly beg him to grant us that we may be led by the spirit of contrition into the desert of confession; so that in these forty days we may receive the remission of our sins. Then, renewed and purified, may we be found fit to enjoy the gladness of his holy Resurrection, and to be established in the glory of everlasting happiness. May he grant this, to whom be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 BREVIARIUM ROMANUM, Antiphon at Terce in Lent.
2 OVID, Remedia amoris, 161-162
3 BERNARD (=GAUFRIDUS), Declamationes, 44,54; PL 184.465
4 SENECA, Epistola 48,12
5 cf. INNOCENT III, sermo 26, PL 217.573
6 cf. GREGORY, Moralium XXX,18,60; PL 76.556-557
7 OVID, Remedia amoris, 369
Copyright in this translation belongs to Revd Dr S.R.P.Spilsbury
(The fifth Gospel, for the second Sunday of Lent: Jesus took Peter.)
(First, a sermon for preachers: Come up to me upon the mount.)
1. Jesus took Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain, etc. (Mt 17,1) The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
Come up to me into the mount, and be there. And I will give thee two tables, the law and the commandments, which I have written, that thou mayst teach the children of Israel.
Moses (‘Drawn from the waters’ (cf. Ex 2,10)) represents the preacher who irrigates the minds of the faithful with the water of doctrine, springing up to eternal life (cf. Jn 4,14).
The Lord says to him, Come up to me into the mount. ‘The mount’, because of its height, represents the excellence of a holy life. The preacher must leave behind the valley of temporal things, and climb up it by the ladder of divine love. There he will find the Lord, for the Lord is found in the excellence of a holy life. As Genesis says:
On the mountain the Lord will see, (Gn 22,14)
that is, in the excellence of a holy life, the Lord makes him see and understand what he owes to God, and what to his neighbour. I
I will give thee two tables. The two tables stand for the knowledge of the two Testaments, which alone contain and impart knowledge. This is the only true knowledge, which teaches us to love God, despise the world and subdue the flesh. These are the things the preacher must teach to the children of Israel, and on them depend all the Law and the prophets (cf. Mt 22,40). But where can such precious knowledge be found?
Truly, ‘on the mount’. Come up to me into the mount, and be there, for there is the change of the right hand of the Most High (Ps 76,11), the Transfiguration of the Lord, the contemplation of true joy. So today’s Gospel says, Jesus took Peter and James and John, etc.
2. In this Gospel there are five points worthy of special attention:
The ascent of Jesus Christ with the three Apostles upon the mountain;
The appearance of Moses and Elijah;
The bright cloud overshadowing them; and
The proclamation by the Father’s voice, This is my beloved Son.
As God may inspire us, let us see what is the moral significance of these five, to the honour of God and the benefit of your souls.
(A sermon for penitents or religious: When thou shalt come to the oak of Thabor.)
3. Let us say, then: Jesus took Peter and James and John.
These three Apostles, the special companions of Jesus Christ, may be understood as three virtues of our soul, without which no-one can climb the mountain of light, the excellence of holy conversation. Peter is the one who acknowledged, James (or Jacob) is ‘the supplanter’, John is ‘the grace of the Lord’. Jesus took Peter, and you too must take Peter, you who believe in Jesus and hope for salvation from Jesus. Peter is the acknowledgement of your sins, which consist in these three things: pride in the heart, lust in the flesh and avarice in the world. Take James, too. He is the supplanting of these vices, so that you may tread the pride of your spirit under the foot of reason; so that you may mortify the lust of your flesh, and repress the vanity of the deceitful world. And take John, the grace of the Lord, which stands at the door and knocks (cf. Ap 3,20), so that it may enlighten you to recognise the evil things you have done, and help you in the good things you have begun to do.
These are the three men of whom Samuel told Saul, in the first book of Kings:
When thou shalt come to the oak of Thabor, there shall meet thee three men going up to God to Bethel, one carrying three kids, and another three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine. (1S 10,3)
The oak of Thabor and Mount Thabor stand for the excellence of a holy life, which may well be called ‘an oak’, ‘a mount’, or ‘Thabor’. An oak, because it is constant and unbending through perseverance to the end; a mount, because it is high and lifted up by the contemplation of God; and Thabor (‘the coming light’) by the enlightening of good example. These three things are required in the excellence of a holy life: that it be constant in itself, contemplative towards God, and enlightening to our neighbour. When you come to or prepare to climb the oak or mount of Thabor, these three men going up to God will meet you. These three are Peter who recognises, James who supplants and John the grace of God. Peter bears three kids, James three loaves, and John a bottle of wine.
‘Peter’ is he who recognises himself as a sinner, and he carries three kids. The goat represents the stink of sin, and the three goats are the three kinds of sin which in general we commit: pride in the heart, unruliness in the flesh and avarice in the world. Whoever wants to climb the mountain of light must carry these three kids. That is to say, he must recognise himself as a sinner in these three ways.
‘James’ is he who uproots the vices of the flesh, and he carries three loaves of bread. Bread represents the sweet savour of the mind, consisting in humility of heart, chastity of body and love of poverty. No-one can have this savour unless he has first uprooted the vices. He carries three loaves of bread, the threefold savour of the mind which represses pride of heart, restrains the unruliness of the flesh and drives away the avarice of the world.
‘John’ is he who (with God’s grace going before him and following) keeps all these faithfully and perseveringly. He carries a bottle of wine, and the wine in the bottle is the grace of the Holy Spirit in a good will. Jesus took Peter and James and John: do you also take these three men, and climb mount Thabor.
(A sermon on the Nativity of the Lord or for a feast of blessed Mary: Jacob saw in his sleep a ladder.)
4. But, believe me, the climb is hard because the mountain is high. Do you want to climb it with ease? Then you must use the ladder of which we read and sing in the Office reading for this Sunday:
Jacob saw in his sleep a ladder lifted up and standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven; the angels also of God ascending and descending by it, and the Lord leaning upon the ladder. (Gn 28,12-13)
Notice each word, and how it is concordant with the Gospel. ‘He saw’- that is the knowledge of sin, of which St Bernard1 says, "Let not God give me any other vision to see, save to know my sins." ‘Jacob’ (which is the same as James) is the supplanting of the flesh. Of him, Esau said,
He hath supplanted me this second time. (Gn 27,36)
‘In sleep’ means the grace of God, which brings the sleep of quiet and peace. Sleep is described like this by the Philosopher2 : "Sleep is the resting of an animal’s powers, with a strengthening of its natural abilities.2 When someone sleeps the sleep of grace, what is carnal in him rests from its depravity, and he attends to what is spiritual. So it says in Genesis:
When the sun was setting, a deep sleep fell upon Abraham, and a great horror seized upon him. (Gn 15,12)
By the sun, we understand carnal pleasure, which when it lies down allows sleep (the ecstasy of contemplation) to fall upon us, and a great horror seizes us regarding our past sins and the pains of hell. Would you hear of the increase of what is spiritual, and the remission of what is carnal? I sleep, says the Bride in the Canticles, but my heart keeps watch in the contemplation of heavenly things. So it is well said that Jacob saw in his sleep a ladder. By it you can climb Mount Thabor.
5. This ladder has two sides and six rungs by which to climb. The ladder represents Jesus Christ, who two sides are his divine and his human nature. The six rungs are his humility, poverty, wisdom, mercy, patience and obedience.
He was humble when he took our nature and looked upon the humility of his handmaid.
He was poor in his birth, when the poor virgin who bore the very Son of God had nowhere to lie down.
He was wise in his preaching (for he began to do and to teach (Ac 1,1)).
He was merciful in his kindly treatment of sinners (I came not to call the just, but sinners to repentance (Mt 9,13)).
He was patient in the face of scourges, blows, spitting (wherefore he says by Isaiah, I have set my face like a flint. (Is 50,7)) When a stone is struck, it does not strike back or murmur against whoever breaks it. So Christ,
when he was reviled, did not revile; when he suffered, he threatened not. (1P 2,23)
he was made obedient even to death, death on a cross. (Ph 2,8)
This ladder stands upon the earth, as he stood in his preaching and working of miracles. It touches heaven because (as St Luke says) He spent the night in the prayer of the Lord
This ladder has been set up, so why do you not climb it? Why do you crawl upon the earth, on hands and knees? Climb! Jacob saw angels going up and down by the ladder. Go up, you angels, you prelates of the Church and you faithful of Jesus Christ! Go up, I say, to contemplate how sweet the Lord is (Ps 33,9). Go down to help and counsel, for your neighbour needs these. Why climb by any other way, when you can go up by the ladder? On either side of where you want to climb, there is a sheer precipice. O foolish and slow of heart (Lc 24,25)- I will not say, ‘to believe’, because you do believe, as even the demons believe, (Jc 2,19)- but how hard and slow you are to action! Do you think you can climb Mount Thabor by some other way to reach the rest which is light and the glory of heavenly bliss; some way other than by the ladder of humility, poverty and the Lord’s Passion? Indeed you can not! The Lord’s word is:
He who would come alter me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me. (Mt 16,24)
And Jeremiah says:
Thou shalt call me Father and shalt not cease to walk alter me. (Jr 3,19)
St Augustine3 tells us that "The doctor sips the bitter potion first, so that the sick man may not be afraid to drink it." St Gregory4 says that "By a bitter cup to drink we come to the joy of health;" and, "To save your life you would endure fire and sword."5 Go up, then, and do not be afraid, because the Lord is leaning upon the ladder, ready to receive those climbing it. In this way, then, Jesus took Peter and James and John, and went up onto a high mountain.
(A sermon for the faithful of the Church: Moses and Aaron, and on the property of the sapphire.)
6. There follows, secondly: And he was transfigured before them (Mt 17,2).
Press yourself like soft wax against this shape, that you may receive the shape of Jesus Christ, whose
face did shine as the sun; and his garments became white as snow. (ibid)
There are four things to notice in this text: his face, the sun, his garments and the snow. Let us see the moral significance of each of them.
Note that in the front of the head (which in a human being we call the face) there are three senses, arranged and disposed in a most orderly manner: sight, smell and taste, with smell as it were a kind of balance between sight and taste. In a similar way there
are three spiritual senses in the face of our soul, arranged in due order by the wisdom of the supreme maker: the sight of faith, the smell of discernment and the taste of contemplation.
7. Of the sight which is faith, we read in Exodus that
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abiu, and seventy of the ancients of Israel went up; and the saw the God of Israel; and under his feet as it were a work of sapphire stone, and as the heaven when clear. (Ex 24,9-10)
This text describes all those who see, and what they should see (that is, believe), with the eye of faith. Moses (‘drawn from the waters’) represents all religious, who ought to be drenched with the water of tears. To this end they have been taken out of the river of Egypt, that they may ‘sow in tears’ in this fearful desert, and afterwards ‘reap in exultation’ in the promised land. Aaron the high priest (‘mountainous’) represents all the greater prelates of the Church, who are established upon the mountain of dignity. Nadab (‘spontaneous’) stands for all who are subject to authority, and who should obey freely and not by coercion. Abiu (‘their father’) stands for all who are married according to the rites of the Church, to become parents of children. The seventy elders of Israel are all the baptized, who in Baptism received the Spirit of sevenfold grace.
All these see and believe (and should see and believe) the God of Israel. Under his feet as it were a work of sapphire stone indicates what they should believe. The words ‘the God of Israel’ express the divinity, while "under his feet" denotes the humanity of Jesus Christ, whom we should believe to be true God and true man. Moses, in Deuteronomy, says of these feet:
They that approach to his feet shall receive of his doctrine. (Dt 33,3)
So, too, it is said that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his words (cf. Lc 10,39). ‘Under the Lord’s feet’ (that is, after the Incarnation of Jesus Christ) there appeared the work of the Lord, like a sapphire stone and like the clear sky. Sapphire and the sky are the same colour.
Note that the sapphire has four properties: it has the appearance of a star; it destroys the plague; it resembles a clear sky; and it restrains blood. In this way, the sapphire resembles Holy Church, which began from the Incarnation of Christ, and which will last until the end of the world. She is divided into four orders: Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins, which we understand properly by analogy with the properties of the sapphire.
The sapphire has the appearance of a star, and so represents the apostles who first showed forth the morning-star of faith to those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death (cf. Lc 1,79). By its touch, the sapphire destroys the plague (which deadly sickness), and so it represents the martyrs who, by their martyrdom, destroyed the plague of idolatry. Having the same colour as the sky, the sapphire stands for confessors
who, reckoning all temporal things to be rubbish, have hung themselves by the thread of divine love in contemplation of heavenly bliss. They say with the Apostle, Our conversation is in heaven (Ph 3,20). The sapphire also restrains the blood, and so represents virgins who, for love of the heavenly Bridegroom, totally restrain in themselves the blood of carnal lust. This, then, is the wonderful work of the sapphire stone which appeared under the Lord’s feet. This makes clear to you what your soul should see, and what it should believe with the eyes of faith.
(A sermon on discretion: Thy nose is as the tower of Libanus, etc.)
8. In the Canticle of Love, the sense of smell (good judgement, discretion) is alluded to in the words:
Thy nose is as the tower of Libanus that looketh towards Damascus. (Ct 7,4)
Again, there are four words to note especially in this verse: nose, tower, Libanus and Damascus. The nose represents discretion, the tower humility, Libanus (Lebanon, ‘whitening’) chastity and Damascus (‘blood-drinking’) the malice of the devil. The ‘nose’ of the soul is the virtue of discretion, which sniffs out vice and virtue as the nose distinguishes nice and nasty smells. It also scents from a distance the approaching temptations of the devil. So Job says (referring to the just man):
He smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains and the shouting of the army. (Jb 39,25)
The faithful soul senses with her ‘nose’ (the virtue of discretion) the battle of the flesh, the encouraging of the captains (the misleading suggestions of vain reasoning, which under the guise of holiness may lead the soul to fall into the pit of iniquity), and the shouting of the army, the temptations of the demons who roar like beasts. (The word translated as ‘shouting’ actually implies a bestial noise.)
The nose of the Bride must be like the Tower of Libanus. The virtue of discretion is to be found most of all in humility of heart and chastity of body. Humility is well-called ‘the tower of chastity’, because like a tower which defends a castle, humility of heart defends the chastity of the body against the spears of fornication. If the Bride’s ‘nose’ is like that, she can look boldly towards ‘Damascus’ (the devil) who desires to drink the blood of our souls. She sees very clearly his malice and subtlety.
(A sermon on contemplation: Taste and see, and on the property of the sun.)
9. Regarding the ‘taste’ of contemplation, the Prophet says;
Taste and see how sweet the Lord is. (Ps 33,9)
‘Taste’: that is to say, press within your mind’s throat, and by this pressure recognise, the blessedness of that heavenly Jerusalem, the glorification of holy souls, the ineffable glory of the angelic dignity and the everlasting sweetness of the Trinity and Unity. Taste, too, how great it will be to share the glory of the choirs of angels, to praise God with untiring voice, to behold the presence of the face of God, to gaze upon the manna of the divinity held in the urn of his humanity. If you taste these things, truly you will see how sweet the Lord is. Blessed is that soul whose face is characterised and equipped with such senses!
Note, too, how the sense of smell is situated like a balance between sight (faith) and taste (contemplation). In faith, discernment is necessary lest we try to ‘approach and see the burning bush’ (Ex 3,3), or lest we try to undo the latchet of the shoe (Lc 3,10); in other words, lest we try to fathom the secret of the Lord’s Incarnation. Just believe; that is enough. It is not within your power to undo the fastening. Solomon says:
He that is a searcher of Majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory. (Pr 25,27)
So let us firmly believe, and simply confess.
In contemplation, discernment is also necessary so that we do not try to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise (cf. Rm 12,3). To this end, Solomon says in Proverbs:
My son, thou hast found honey (the sweetness of contemplation);
eat what is sufficient for thee, lest being glutted therewith thou vomit it up. (Pr 25,16)
He ‘vomits up honey’ who, not being content with the grace that has been freely given him, wants to pin down the sweetness of contemplation by human reason. He does not pay attention to what Genesis says, that when Benjamin was born, Rachel died (cf. Gn 35,17 Gn 35,19). Benjamin represents the grace of contemplation, Rachel stands for human reason. When Benjamin is born, Rachel dies, because when the mind is lifted above itself in contemplation and beholds something by the light of the divinity, all human reason fails. This failure of reason is what is meant by the ‘death of Rachel’. As someone6 has said, "Nobody can reach by human reason the place to which Paul was carried up." So the ‘smell’ of discernment should be like a balance between the ‘sight’ of faith and the ‘taste’ of contemplation; then the face of our soul will shine like the sun.
(A sermon on the mercy of God towards converted sinners: If your sins be as scarlet.)
10. Note also these three qualities in the sun: brightness, whiteness and heat. These three properties correspond very well with the aforementioned senses of the soul. The brightness of the sun corresponds to the spiritual sense of sight which is faith, which beholds and believes things unseen, in the brightness of its own light. Whiteness, that is to say cleanness and purity, corresponds to the spiritual sense of smell, discernment.
This is appropriate, for just as we hold our nose and turn away from a bad smell, so by the virtue of discernment we should turn away from the uncleanness of sin. The sun’s heat corresponds to the spiritual taste, contemplation, in which there is truly the heat of love. That is why St Bernard7 says: "It is impossible that the supreme Good be seen and not loved." God himself is love.
Pay attention then, beloved, and see how useful and salutary it is to take these three companions and go up onto the mountain of light. There, truly, is the transfiguration from the form of this world, which is passing away (cf. 1Co 7,31) into the form of God which remains for ever and ever. Of this it is said, His face shone like the sun. Let the face of our souls too shine like the sun, so that what we see by faith we may show forth by our works; so that by the virtue of discernment we may pursue outwardly, in purity of action, the good which we perceive inwardly; and so that what we taste in the contemplation of God we may radiate in the warmth of our love for our neighbour. That is how our face will shine like the sun.
11. There follows:
His raiment was made white as snow, as no fuller on earth could make it. (Mc 9,2)
The raiment of our soul is our body and its members. These must be white, according to the words of Solomon:
At all times let thy garments be white. (Qo 9,8)
What sort of whiteness? The whiteness of snow. Through Isaiah, the Lord promises to sinners who are converted:
If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow. (Is 1,18)
Consider ‘scarlet’ and ‘snow’: scarlet is material dyed the colour of blood and fire, snow is cold and white. Fire denotes the heat of sin, and blood its uncleanness. The cold of snow stands for the grace of the Holy Spirit, and its whiteness for cleanness of mind. So when the Lord says, If your sins be as scarlet, he is saying that if you are converted he will pour into you the grace of the Holy Spirit to put out the fire of sin and wash away its uncleanness. So he says by Ezekiel:
I will pour upon you clean water and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness. (Ez 36,25)
Our clothes (our bodily members) should be ‘white as snow’. The coolness of the snow (compunction of heart) should extinguish the burning of sin, and the whiteness of holy conversation should wash away the uncleanness of sin.
Another way of looking at it is this: the clothes of the soul are the virtues. Clothed with these, our soul will appear glorious in the sight of God. Today’s Scripture reading refers to these clothes, saying that
Rebecca put on Jacob very good garments, which she had at home with her. (Gn 27,15)
Rebecca (the Wisdom of God the Father) clothes Jacob (the just man) with good garments (the virtues, woven and made by the hand of Wisdom herself), which she has with her in the treasury of her glory. She really does have them, because God is Lord and owner of all. She really does have them, because God gives to all whom he will, when and how he will. These garments she puts on Jacob, the just man. These garments are white in their effect, because they make a man white not (I would say) just as snow, but even whiter than snow. Garments like these no ‘fuller’- no preacher, that is- can ever make on earth by the cleansing work of preaching.
(A sermon for a prelate: And there appeared Moses and Elias.)
12. There follows, thirdly:
And there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him. (Mt 17,3)
To the just man- thus transfigured, thus illuminated and thus clothed- there appear Moses and Elijah.
Moses was a man exceeding meek above all men that dwelt upon earth. (Nb 12,3)
His eye was not dim, neither were his teeth moved. (Dt 34,7)
Moses represents the meekness of patience and mercy. Like an obedient child, or like an animal which is responsive to its master’s hand, he was responsive to the hand of divine grace. His eye- that is, his reason- was not dimmed by the grime of hatred, nor was it obscured by the cloud of rancour. His teeth were not moved to murmur against anyone, nor to bite them by detraction.
Elijah (who, as the third book of Kings tells, slew the prophets of Baal at the Brook Kishon) stands for the zeal of justice. Baal means ‘master’ or ‘devourer’, and Kishon means ‘their hardness’. He who is truly aglow with zeal for justice slays the prophets and servants of pride (which always seeks to be master) and of greed and lust (which devour all things) with the sword of preaching, denunciation and excommunication: so that being dead to vice, they may live to God (cf. Ga 2,19). He does this at the Brook Kishon, the abounding hardness of their hearts whereby they store up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath, when the just judgement of God shall be revealed (cf. Rm 2,5).
The Lord says of this hardness, to Ezekiel:
Those to whom I send thee are children of a hard neck and of an obstinate heart; for all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and a stiff neck. (Ez 2,4 Ez 3,7)
The person with a ‘hard forehead’ is someone who, when rebuked, not only despises the correction but is not even ashamed of the sin. Jeremiah rebukes him, saying:
Thou hast a harlot’s forehead, thou wouldst not blush. (Jr 3,3)
So Moses and Elijah, the meekness of mercy and zeal for justice, should appear with the just man when he is transfigured upon the mount of holy conversation, so that like the Samaritan he may pour wine and oil upon the wounds of the man who has been attacked; so that the sharpness of wine may give bite to the soothing oil, and the soothing oil may temper the sharpness of the wine.
For this reason it is said in Matthew that the angel who appeared at the Resurrection of Christ had a countenance like lightning, and raiment like snow (cf. Mt 28,3). The lightning denotes the severity of judgement, the whiteness of snow the gentleness of mercy. The angel (that is, the prelate) should have a countenance like lightning, so that at his holy conversation the women (here standing for weak and feeble minds) may be terrified at his gaze. So Esther was, as we are told in that Book:
When King Assuerus had lifted up his countenance, and with burning eyes had shown the wrath of his heart, the queen sunk down. And her colour turned pale: and she rested her weary head upon her handmaid. (Est 15,10)
But the prelate, like Assuerus, should stretch out the golden sceptre of kindness, and put on raiment like snow, so that those whom fatherly strictness has corrected should be comforted by a mother’s kindness. There is a saying, "When you feel the chastisement of your father, take refuge on the breast of your mother."
The prelate should be like the pelican, who is reputed to slay his children, but then to draw blood from his own body and pour it upon them to revive them. The prelate, though he corrects his children, those subject to him, with the scourge of discipline; and even ‘slays’ them with the sword of harsh rebuke: should recall them to penitence, the life of the soul, by his own blood, the compassion of his heart and the shedding of tears, which Augustine8 calls "the blood of the soul".
(A sermon for the dedication of a church or on the feast of a martyr or confessor: After all things were perfected.)
13. If these three things come to pass in you, namely: the ascent of the mountain, the transfiguration, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, then the fourth will follow:
Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.
There is a similar incident towards the end of Exodus, where it says:
After all things were perfected, the cloud covered the tabernacle of the testimony, and the glory of the Lord filled it. (Ex 40,31-2)
There were four things in the tabernacle of testimony: the seven-branched candlestick, the table of proposition, the ark of the covenant and the golden altar (cf. Ex 25). The "tabernacle" is the just man. The tent reminds us that man’s life is a warfare on earth (Jb 7,1), and armed soldiers are accustomed to attack the enemy from their camp. The just man, prepared for battle, both attacks and defends. It has been said,9 "It is a skilful adversary that makes you a skilful fighter." This tent is ‘of testimony’, referring to the witness that the just man has not only ‘from those outside’ (cf. 1Tm 3,7), whose witness is not always reliable, but from within himself, the glory of a good conscience (cf. 2Co 1,12) and not the tongue of someone else.
In this tent of witness, the ‘gold candlestick of beaten work’, with its seven lamps, is the compunction of the just man’s golden heart, beaten with many sighs as by so many mallets. The seven lamps of this candlestick are the three kids, three loaves of bread, and the bottle of wine which the three companions mentioned earlier carry. In the just man’s tabernacle is the ‘table of proposition’, by which we understand the excellence of holy life, upon which the loaves of proposition should be placed, the refreshment of preaching to be set before everyone. (That is why the Apostle says, I am a debtor to the Greek and to the barbarian (Rm 1,4). There, too, is the ‘ark of the covenant’, containing the manna and the rod. The ark, the mind of the just man, should contain the manna of meekness (so that he may be a Moses) and the rod of correction (so that he may be an Elijah). There is also the golden altar, meaning the firm intention of persevering to the end. On this altar, the incense of devout compunction is offered daily, together with the sweet-smelling perfume of prayer.
14. So the words are appropriate, After all things were perfected, the cloud covered the tabernacle of the testimony. The cloud which covers such a tabernacle, in which all things belonging to perfection are made perfect, so that the glory of the Lord fills it, is the cloud spoken of in today’s Gospel,
And a bright cloud overshadowed them.
The grace of God overshadows the just man who is transfigured on the mountain of light, the mountain of holy conversation. It hides him from the heat of worldly prosperity, from the rain of carnal desire, and from the storm of demonic persecution. Then he is made capable of hearing the whisper of a gentle breeze (cf 1R 19,22), the sweet voice of God the Father, saying:
This is my most dear Son, hear him. (Mt 17,5)
He is truly worthy of being called a son of God, if he takes the three companions who have been mentioned, goes up the mountain, changes himself from the form of this world to the form of God, has Moses and Elijah as companions, and is overshadowed by the bright cloud.
We ask you then, Lord Jesus, to make us climb from this vale of tears to the mountain of a holy life; so that we may have the form of your Passion printed upon us, and be strengthened with the meekness of mercy and with zeal for justice. Then, in the day of judgement, may we be found fit to be overshadowed by the bright cloud; and hear the voice of joy, gladness and exultation, the voice which says:
Come, ye blessed of my Father (who blessed you on Mount Tabor), receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.
May he, to whom all honour, glory, praise, dominion, majesty and eternity is due, deign to bring us to that kingdom. And let every spirit say: Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - (SECOND PROLOGUE)