Anthony_Sermons - (SECOND CLAUSE)
(A sermon against detractors: Be not in the feasts of great drinkers; and the threefold sword of detraction.)
14. There follows, thirdly:
And, lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom; and he cried and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. (Lc 16,23-24)
The rich man lifted up his eyes, but in vain, since he had set his eyes bowing down to the earth (Ps 16,11). Isaiah says:
We shall look towards the land, and behold darkness of tribulation: and the light is darkened with the mist thereof. (Is 5,30)
Because the rich man looked to the love of earthy things, darkness of tribulation covered him, and his light, his prosperity, was darkened in hell. He saw Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. The book of Wisdom testifies how great is the affliction of evil people at seeing the joy of the good:
These seeing it shall be troubled with terrible fear,
and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation.
Saying within themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit:
These are they whom we had some time in derision and for a parable of reproach.
We fools esteemed their life madness and their end without honour.
Behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints. (Sg 5,2-5)
And he cried and said: Father Abraham, etc. He begged a drop of water, who would not
give a crumb of bread. He desired to be given a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger, who would not give him the crumbs falling from his table. We speak of a ‘fingertip’, not because Lazarus had fingers any more, but to show that the rich man would have counted even the least help, just the dipping of a finger, to be a great benefit- if only he could have what he wanted.
To cool my tongue. He had no tongue, but he was being punished for sins of the tongue! As revellers do, he gave free rein to his tongue. He was tormented even before his judgement, for to a glutton the mere lack of delicacies is a punishment. He sinned not only in the vice of gluttony, but in sins of the tongue committed in the course of his revels. Solomon warns in Proverbs (23.20):
Be not in the feasts of great drinkers, nor in their revellings, who contribute flesh to eat.
By speaking ill of their neighbour, they eat not only flesh, but even dung! They not only belittle good deeds, they tell lies. In so doing, they eat not just animal flesh, but- abominably- human flesh. In other words, they tear the praiseworthy works of their brothers with the teeth of detraction. Alas! How many religious nowadays abstain from eating meat, yet rend their brethren with the teeth of detraction? Seneca8 says of them, "They stink below, and also above." And St Bernard9 says, "I can hardly say which is more damnable- to speak detraction or to listen to it;" and, "The tongue of a detractor is a triple blade, for it slays three people at one blow"- that is, the speaker, the listener, and the one spoken against, when he hears what has been said.
(A note on how, for one living in mortal sin, deeds that are good according to their kind are useful in five ways.)
15. There follows:
And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is fixed a great chaos; so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot, nor from thence come hither. (Lc 162,52,
The rich man had had something of good; he had done good things, in a general way, though not from charity, and the abundance of divine mercy had rewarded him with temporal goods.
And likewise Lazarus evil things. He accepted the evil of adversity as his just due for such evil as he had done, in respect of venial sin. Now he is comforted and thou art tormented. We should note that, for a person living in mortal sin, the generally good things he does are beneficial in five ways. First, they make the sinner fitter to receive grace; secondly, they serve to give a good example to his neighbour; thirdly, they accustom him to good; fourthly, they earn the reward of temporal benefits, as with this
rich man; and fifthly, they lessen the pains of hell if he dies in mortal sin.
There follows Abraham’s reply to the rich man’s plea: Between us and you, etc. The damned would like to pass from punishment to the glory of the saints; and the just, with compassionate hearts, would gladly go to those in torment, to free them. But they cannot, because the souls of the just, although of the goodness of their nature they have compassion, are yet bound by such devotion to the justice of the Creator that they can show no compassion to the damned. There is a chaos between the poor man and the rich, so that they who would pass, etc.: indicating that after death one’s just deserts cannot be altered.
(A sermon against those who live in riches and delights, which they will soon lack: David took the spear and cup of water.)
16. There is a concordance to this in the first book of Kings:
David took the spear, and the cup of water which was at Saul’s head... When David was gone over to the other side, and stood on the top of the hill afar off, and a good space was between them, he cried to Abner, saying: ...See now. Where is the king’s spear, and the cup of water, which was at his head? (1S 26,12-13 1S 16,14 1S 26,16)
David means ‘strong-armed’, and Saul is ‘abuser’. The spear stands for riches and the cup of water for the pleasures of gluttony. David is the beggar Lazarus, who was strong in hardship and adversity; Saul is the rich man in purple, who misused the goods given him by God. David took Saul’s spear and water-jug; and in a sense Lazarus took away from Saul the spear of the power of riches and the water of gluttonous pleasure, by refusing to have pity on him. Lazarus passed from adversity to rest, and stood on the top of a hill far off, that is, he rested in Abraham’s bosom, far from the pains of the rich man. And lifting up his eyes from afar, etc.: David cried to Abner: See where is the king’s spear, and the cup of water, which was at his head? O you fine rich man,, where now is the spear of riches, with which you used to strike the poor? Where is the jug of water, the pleasure of gluttony? Let it wet your tongue now, tortured in the flame! Yes, indeed: He is comforted and you are tormented.
The third part of the Epistle is concordant to this third clause:
Fear is not in charity; but perfect charity casteth out fear, because fear hath pain. And he that feareth is not perfected in charity. (1Jn 4,18)
There was no fear in the charity of Lazarus the beggar; perfect charity cast it out. As the Gloss says, ‘Charity makes us not fear present troubles.’ The rich man’s fear, the fear of losing what he had, brought him to the penalty of death.
We pray you, Lord Jesus Christ, to free us from the unquenchable fire, and to place us with Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. Grant this, O you who are blessed for ever and ever.
(A sermon on the Father’s house, and on the five rich brothers: I beseech thee, father.)
17. There follows, fourthly:
Then, father, I beseech thee that wouldst send him to my father’s house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments.
Too late, this rich man would like to start being a teacher, when before he had had no time for learning or teaching. When he had lost all hope for himself, this rich man, burning in hell, took thought for his family, saying: Then, father, I beseech thee. Notice his father, his house and his five brothers. The rich man’s father was the devil, whom he took after. His house was the world and worldly folk, among whom are his five brothers, all those devoted to the five bodily senses. The rich man sees that he has been damned on account of these five senses, dear as brothers to him. So he, who has had no pity on himself, seeks to forewarn, by a kind of mercy, those still devoted to the senses. Sinners love their bodily senses like brothers; good people treat them as servants.
(A sermon on the slavery of the five senses: Abigail arose and made haste.)
There is a concordance to this in the first book of Kings, where it says that:
Abigail arose, and made haste, and got upon an ass: and five damsels went with her, her waiting maids; and she followed the messengers of David, and became his wife. (1R 25,42)
Abigail means ‘joy of my father’, and she represents the penitent soul over whom there is joy in heaven. She rode upon an ass, controlling her body; and with her went five damsels that waited upon her, the five bodily senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, which stand for understanding, obedience, discrimination, the pursuit of truth and virtuous action. With these, she follows David’s messengers, the poverty, humility and Passion of Jesus Christ, which bring us tidings of what he was like in this world. In this way she became his wife, betrothed to him with the ring of a well-formed faith.
18. There follows:
And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them. But he said: No, father Abraham; but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance. And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they
believe if one rise again from the dead. (Lc 16,29-31)
It is clear that the rich man was Jewish, since his brothers were subject to the Law of Moses and to the prophets. That is why Abraham calls him ‘son’, and he calls Abraham ‘father’. He who had despised God’s words himself, did not think his followers would hear them either. Those who despise the words of the Law will find it still harder to fulfil the precepts of the Redeemer, who rose from the dead, for these precepts are even more demanding. And if they refuse to obey his words, they will surely refuse to believe in him. Those who give themselves to the flesh and to the senses will listen neither to Moses- the prelates of Holy Church- nor to the prophets- her preachers. Worse still, they will not believe Christ as he rises from the dead. Saul believed Samuel, when he had been called up by the divining spirit. Shall we not believe Christ, truly rising by the power of God the Father?
There is a concordance to this in the first book of Kings. Saul said to the woman with the divining spirit;
Divine to me by thy divining spirit, and bring me up him whom I shall tell thee... And the woman said to him: Whom shall I bring up to thee? And he said: Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice, and said to Saul:
Why hast thou deceived me? For thou art Saul. And the king said to her: Fear not. What hast thou seen? (1S 28,11-13)
The woman told him she had seen an old and glorious man, wrapped in a priestly mantle; and when Saul understood that it was Samuel, he fell down before him. According to Josephus, the soul of Samuel asked, "Why have you disturbed my rest, that I should be raised up?" According to the "Histories"10, some say regarding this raising that an evil spirit appeared in the form of Samuel, or that it was an illusion that Saul took to be Samuel. Some say that it was only Samuel’s soul, wearing the likeness of a body by God’s permission; while yet others say that it was only his body, animated with that life-principle which we share with animals, while his soul rested in its own place.
Whatever about this, let us treat our bodily senses as servants, not brothers. Let us listen to Moses and the prophets, and let us believe Christ who is risen from the dead and is seated at God’s right hand. And as we believe him, let us love those who believe.
19. And so the fourth part of the Epistle is concordant with this fourth clause:
Let us therefore love God; because God hath first loved us. If any man say: I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God whom he seeth not? (1Jn 4,19-20)
St Augustine11 tells us, "If someone loved someone else, whom he saw with human sight, with a spiritual love: he would in fact see God, who is love itself, with that inner sight by which alone he can be seen. But he who does not love the brother he sees, how
can he love God? He who does not love his brother lacks the love which is God."
Beloved brethren, let us ask the God who is love to give us love for the poverty of Lazarus the beggar, and abhorrence for the wealth of the rich man clad in purple; and to deliver us from burial in hell, and to place us in Abraham’s bosom. May he grant this, to whom be honour and glory, dignity and kingship, for ever and ever. And let every truly poor person say, Amen. Alleluia.
1 Or rather, AUGUSTINE, Epistola 138.14; PL 33.531
2 cf. GREGORY, Moralia XXVI 18,33; PL 76.368
3 cf. GREGORY, Pastoral Rule III,26; PL 77.100
4 Though Antony quotes AUGUSTINE, this whole section is heavily dependent upon PETER LOMBARD, Sentences III, dist. 27.5, through whom Antony derives the quotation
5 P. LOMBARD, Sentences III, dist 28,1
6 BERNARD= GUIGO, Ad fratres de Monte Dei I,7,18; PL 184.320
7 cf. PETER COMESTOR, Historia Scholastica, Lib. I Regum, 4; PL 198.1298
8 Perhaps cf. P. SYRUS, Mimi, 338
9 BERNARD, De consideratione II,22; PL 182.756; De diversis, sermo 17,4; PL 183.585
10 cf. PETER COMESTOR, Historia Scholastica, Lib I Reg, 26; PL 198.1321
11 cf. PETER LOMBARD, Sentences III, dist. 27,3
Copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury
(The Gospel for the second Sunday after Pentecost: A certain man made a great supper, which is divided into three clauses.)
(First, a sermon on the battle between the demons and the just; The Philistines gathering together.)
1. At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: A certain man made a great supper, and invited many. And he sent his servant at the hour of supper to say to them that were invited, that they should come. (Lc 14,16-17)
In the first book of Kings it says:
Now the Philistines, gathering together their troops to battle, assembled at Socho of Juda, and camped between Socho and Azeca in the borders of Dommim. And Saul and the children of Israel being gathered together came to the valley of Terebinth: and they set the army in array to fight against the Philistines. (1S 17,1-2)
Philistine means ‘falling from drink’, Socho is ‘tents’, Juda is ‘confession’, Azeca is ‘deceit’, and Dommim is ‘red’. Thus the Philistines represent the demons who, drunk with pride, fell from heaven. They gather their forces and assemble for battle in ‘Socho of Juda’, to battle against those who are camped in the tents of penitence; these are ‘between Socho and Azeca in the borders of Dommim’, because the demons fight against just men to deceive them with their wicked suggestions and, if they succeed in deceiving them, lead them into the blood of sin.
It says, too, in the third book of Kings that the dogs licked the blood of Ahab (cf. 1R 22,38), the dogs being the demons who lick the blood of Ahab (‘brotherhood of fatherhood’), of the man who used to live in the brotherhood of penitents who have one God and Father. The children of Israel, true preachers gathered in unity of faith, must set their minds and preaching in array, to fight against the demons. But where? In the valley of Terebinth, of course- that is, in the humility of the Cross, from which flows forth the most precious resin of Jesus Christ’s blood; of him who says in today’s Gospel: A certain man made a great supper, etc.
2. There are three things to note in this Gospel. First, the preparation of the great supper and the invitation to it by the servant: A certain man. Second, the excuses of those invited: And they began all at once to make excuse. Third, the bringing in to the supper of the poor, the feeble, the blind and the lame: Then the master of the house, being angry. We will concord with these three clauses certain stories from the first book of Kings.
This Sunday we sing in the Introit of the Mass: The Lord is made my protector, and the Epistle of St John is read: Wonder not if the world hate you, which we will divide into three parts and concord with the three clauses of the Gospel. The first is: Wonder not, the second: In this we have known, the third: He that hath the substance of this world.
(A sermon for religious: Anna gave her son suck.)
3. Let us say, then: A certain man made a great supper. This supper is two-fold: that of penitence and that of glory. Since we cannot come to the second without the first, let us prepare the first one, and see what foods are necessary for it.
There is a concordance to this in the first book of Kings:
Anna gave her son suck, till she weaned him. And alter she had weaned him, she carried him with her, with three calves, and three bushels of flour, and a bottle of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord in Silo. (1S 1,23-24)
Anna (whose name means ‘grace’) stands for the grace of the Holy Spirit, who suckles the penitent with the two breasts of prevenient and subsequent grace, until he is altogether weaned from the milk of carnal desire and worldly vanity. When a mother wants to wean her child, she puts a bitter ointment on her nipple. The child finds bitterness where it expected sweetness, and so is weaned from the milk it enjoys. In the same way, the grace of the Holy Spirit anoints the breast of temporal things with the bitterness of tribulation, so that by this bitterness man may be induced to reject the desired delight, and turn instead to that which is true.
And alter she had weaned him, she carried him with three calves. These are the foods we need to prepare for the supper of penitence. Grace takes the penitent with three calves, a threefold offering. The first is the calf of a broken and a contrite heart: as the Psalm says, Then shall they lay calves upon thy altar (Ps 50,21). Penitents offer calves upon the altar of a contrite heart by sacrificing their lustful and unclean thoughts. The second calf is confession. Hosea says, towards the end:
Take with you words and return to the Lord and say to him:
Take away all iniquity and receive the good: and we will render the calves of our lips. (Os 14,3)
We take words with us when we try to fulfil what we have heard, and so turn to the Lord, saying to him, ‘Take away all the iniquity that we have done, and receive the good which you have given us.’ Not to me Lord, not to me, but to thy name give glory (cf. Ps 113,9).
In this way we offer you the calves of our lips, the confession of sin and of praise. The third calf is our body, mortified by penance. The calf or the heifer is a young animal- it represents our flesh, which in youth runs riot in the fields of wantonness. Samson says, in Judges: If you had not ploughed with my heifer, you had not found out my riddle (Jg 15,18). Samson represents the spirit, while the heifer is our flesh. We plough with it when we afflict it, and so we answer the riddle, What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion (the lion of the tribe of Judah)? What is sweeter than the honey of contemplation? What is stronger than the preacher at whose roar all stand still? What is sweeter than the honey of meekness? What stronger than the lion of severity? So it is well put: She carried him with three calves.
And three bushels of flour. Wheat is ground and broken down into flour. Flour mixed with water is baked into bread, which strengthens man’s heart (Ps 103,15). In the same way the grain of our work has to be ground and broken down in the examination of our conscience, that it may be purified like flour. This examination must be three-fold, measure in three bushels. We must examine the nature of the act itself, its origin and its purpose. Then the work must be mixed with the water of tears, to be lamented by the upper and nether watery ground (Jg 1,15). We offer our work either to make amends for the evil we have already done, or for desire of eternal joy. The Law prescribes the offering of two turtle-doves, one for sin and one for a holocaust (cf. Lv 12,8). Bread is made from flour and water, to strengthen man’s heart, because his conscience is fed by work and tears combined.
And a bottle of wine. The amphora contained three measures. Wine represents gladness of mind, springing from the testimony of a good conscience, concern for one’s neighbour’s welfare, and in the hope of eternal joy. With all these things mother Anna, the grace of the Holy Spirit, takes her son, the righteous man, up to the house of the Lord in Silo, ‘translated’ to eternal life. Thither the saints are translated from their earthly pilgrimage, and there they feast with the blessed angels in its glory.
(A sermon on the banquet of heavenly glory: The Lord of hosts shall make.)
4. In days gone by, supper was the one meal in the day, usually in the evening, when everyone came together to eat. The supper represents the refreshment of eternal glory, in which the saints are satisfied together with the vision of God, who rewards with the same wage all those who labour in the vineyard (cf. Mt 20,2). Isaiah says of this banquet:
The Lord of hosts shall make unto all the people, in this mountain, a feast of fat things:
a feast of wine, of fat things full of marrow, of wine purified from the lees. (Is 25,6)
See how well the Gospel is concordant with Isaiah: the Lord says, A man made a great supper, Isaiah says, The Lord of hosts shall make... etc. One speaks of a great supper, the other of a feast of fat things.
Note these four: feast, fat things, full of marrow, wine purified from the lees. The feast, which is for many people, is the glorious company of all the saints. The ‘fat things’ refers to their charity, the ‘marrow’ to the joy of souls in the vision of God; the purified wine to the glorification of their bodies. In this mountain, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Lord of the angelic hosts will make a feast of fat things, a gathering of all the saints who are full of a rich charity, full of the inexpressible joy of the vision of God, and blessed with the glorification of their bodies. There will be purified wine indeed! The vintage of the grapes is refined by being strained of imperfection. In the vintage of the general resurrection, the bodies of the saints will be gathered and refined, purified from everything corruptible and mortal, and stored in the heavenly cellars. How well said, then: A certain man made a great supper!
Note also that at the great supper we eat a substantial meal, those fruits which the children of Israel brought from the land of promise, grapes and figs and pomegranates, as the book of Numbers tells (cf. Nb 13,24). The grapes, from which wine is pressed, stand for the joy which the saints have in the vision of the incarnate Word. Mere men see God as a man, though angels do not see God as an angel, and they see their own nature raised above the angels. Habbakuk says of this joy:
I will rejoice in the Lord: and I will joy in God my Jesus. (Ha 3,18)
He says rightly, ‘my Jesus’; who to save me, took ‘me’ (that is, my flesh) from me, and raised me above the angels.
The fruitful fig, sweeter than all fruits, represents the delight that the saints have from the vision of the whole Trinity. The prophet says:
O how great is the multitude of thy sweetness, O Lord,
which thou hast hidden for them that fear thee! (Ps 30,20)
You have hidden it, so that it may more fervently be sought, that being sought it may be found, being found more dearly loved, and being loved eternally possessed. O God, thou hast provided for the poor (Ps 67,11). The psalmist does not say what he has prepared, because words cannot express what he has prepared. The Apostle speaks of what eye has not seen (because it is hidden), what ear has not heard (because it is silent and cannot be uttered), and what has not entered into the heart of man (because it is beyond our comprehension) (cf. 1Co 2,9).
The pomegranates represent both the unity of the Church Triumphant and the diversity of rewards. The pomegranate contains within itself sweet-scented seeds. All these seeds are hidden under the skin of the pomegranate, and yet each seed has a distinct cell. In the same way, in eternal life all the saints have a single glory, and yet according to the deeds of each they receive a greater or a lesser reward. That is why the Lord says: In my Father’s house (the ‘skin’) there are many mansions (the distinct cells) (Jn 14,2).
(A sermon for penitents: The Lord, the God of hosts shall call.)
5. See then what kind of foods we eat in the great supper, of which is said: A certain man made a great supper. This man is Jesus Christ, God and man, who made a great supper, of penitence and of glory, but many despise his invitation. As the book of Proverbs says:
I called and you refused. I stretched out my hand, and there was none that regarded. (Pr 1,24)
The Word of the Father called both in his own person and through the words of others, and they refuse to come. He stretched out his hand upon the cross, do bestow so many benefits, and no-one regards it. But the time will come when that outstretched hand will become a fist to smite the wicked (cf. Is 58,41).
The Lord calls us to the first supper, of repentance. Isaiah says:
The Lord, the God of hosts, in that day shall call to weeping and to mourning:
to baldness and to girding with sack-cloth. (Is 22,12)
In these four, true penitence is contained: weeping (contrition), mourning (confession), baldness (renunciation of temporal things), and sack-cloth (satisfaction). The Lord calls men to this supper, but they will not come because they make another supper for themselves, of which it is said:
And behold, joy and gladness, killing calves and slaying rams, eating flesh and drinking wine: Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die. (Is 22,13)
The Lord also invites men to the supper of eternal glory. In the book of Ezra it says that:
Cyrus made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and in writing also, saying: Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him. Let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judea, and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel. He is the God that is in Jerusalem. (Ez 1,1)
Cyrus (meaning ‘inheritance’) stands for Jesus Christ our inheritance. The prophet says; My inheritance is goodly to me (Ps 15,6), better than all the saints put together. He commands all the people to go up to the heavenly Jerusalem, built as a city (Ps 121,3) of smooth stones, the souls of the just. But, in the prophet Haggai, the people say: The time is not yet come for building the house of the Lord (Ag 1,2).
The Lord, whose mercies cannot be numbered, calls not only in his own person, but by the duly appointed preachers, referred to by the words: And he sent his servant at the hour of supper to say to them that were invited that they should come, for now all things are ready (Lc 14,17). The Gloss says that supper-time is the end of this age. The Apostle says to the Corinthians that we are those upon whom the ends of the world are come (1Co 10,11). At this end the servant (the preaching order) is sent to those who have been invited by the Law and the Prophets, to tell them to stop delaying and get ready to partake of the supper, because everything is now prepared. Christ has been sacrificed, the entrance to the kingdom stands open. Christ’s Passion is the opening of the Kingdom, and through it the Church and the righteous man, who have entered the first supper and are to enter the second, say in the Introit of today’s Mass:
The Lord became my protector, and he brought me forth into a large place;
he saved me, because he was well pleased with me. (Ps 17,19-20)
With arms outstretched upon the cross, the Lord became my protector in his Passion; he brought me forth into a large place in the sending of the Holy Spirit; and he saved me when the enemy assailed me because it pleased him that I should enter the supper of eternal life.
The first part of today’s Epistle is concordant with this first clause of the Gospel. John says to those who sit down together at the banquet of eternal life:
Wonder not, brothers, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. (1Jn 3,13-14)
The world, or rather those who love the world, hates the citizens of eternal life. No wonder, because they even hate themselves! He that is evil to himself, to whom will he be good? (Si 14,5). There is a concordance to this in the first book of Kings:
Saul became David’s enemy continually; ...And Saul did not look on David with a good eye from that day and forward.(1S 18,29 1S 18,9)
Wonder not if the world hates you. We know we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. The love of brothers is the entrance to the supper of eternal life.
So let us ask the Lord Jesus Christ, dearest brothers, to lead us into the supper of penitence, and from there transfer us to the supper of eternal glory. May he grant this, who is blessed and glorious for ever and ever. Amen.
(A sermon against care for temporal things: I have bought a farm; and: The ark of the covenant of the Lord.)
6. There follows, secondly:
And they began all at once to make excuse. The first said to him: I have bought a farm and I must needs go out and see it; I pray thee, hold me excused. And another said: I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to try them; I pray thee, hold me excused. And another said: I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. And the servant, returning, told these things to his lord. (Lc 14,18-21)
We must look at these three things: the farm, the five yoke of oxen, and the wife.
The ‘farm’ would have been a piece of ground surrounded by a wall or ditch. It represents the love of domination, of which St Bernard1 says, "I do not fear fire and sword as greatly as the lust to dominate." Those who burn with it wall themselves round with riches and honours. This is the farm Gethsemane, wherein our Lord was betrayed and bound. The name means ‘vale of fat things’- a low place into which refuse drains, to make it ‘rich’. Thus in the farm ‘Gethsemane’ (in those who want to lord it over others rather than serve them, and who take their ease in the vale of carnal pleasure, besmeared like pigs with the filth of temporal riches) Jesus Christ is betrayed: that is, the faith of Jesus Christ is destroyed. Faith rejects temporal goods, and does not wish to dominate. It is content with subjection, and grows from being despised. This farm Gethsemane is ‘bought’ (and would that it could not be had at any price!), because it forces a man to go out from the inward contemplation of God to outward cares.
There is a concordance in the first book of Kings, where it says that:
The ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, sitting upon the cherubims... was come into the camp... And the ark was taken by the Philistines. (cf. 1S 4,4 1S 4,5 1S 4,11)
The ark is the contemplative man, in whom is the manna of sweetness, the tablets of the two-fold law, and the rod of correction. He is called ‘the ark of the covenant of the Lord’, because he enters into a covenant to serve the Lord for ever. The Lord ‘sits upon the cherubims’, spirits full of knowledge: that is, upon the soul that is full of charity, since charity is the fulfilling of the law. Under the compulsion of sin, this ark goes out from the Holy of holies, the hidden face of God, and enters the camp, buys a farm, and desires to be superior. When it is lifted up like this, it is captured by the demons and taken to Azotus (‘fire’), the heat of carnal desire. And so he says: I have bought a farm.
(A sermon against the lust for domination: Saul, compelled by necessity.)
7. And I must needs go out and see it. Notice the words, ‘I must needs’, ‘go out’ and ‘see’. Whoever acquires the farm of earthly dominion finds himself under necessity. Whereas he was free, he has made himself subject to a wretched slavery. In this way, as the first book of Kings tells, Saul was compelled by necessity to go down to the woman with the divining spirit who lived at Endor. That is why he said:
I am in great distress; for the Philistines fight against me; and God is departed from me, and would not hear me. (1S 28,15)
The farm and the divining woman have the same meaning. Endor means ‘spring of generation’, and it stands for Adam, the fount and origin of the human race. He was given paradise as his endowment, but chose to spend it in buying the farm of domination, after hearing the lying words: You shall be as gods (Gn 3,5). Whoever seeks to dominate is walking according to the old man, not the new Man, Jesus Christ (cf. Col 3,9 Col 3,10). As John tells us, when Jesus knew that men would come to take him by force and make him king, he fled into the mountain (cf. Jn 6,15). The art of consulting the dead was called ‘pythonism’ (divination), and so the woman who knew how to do it was said to be a ‘pythoness’. Alas! How many religious, dead to the world and buried in the cloister, does this woman, the love of domination, raise from the sleep of contemplation, from rest and peace, and bring into public view! As Isaiah says:
Thou shalt be brought down: 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)
This is what happens to the man who buys a farm or consults a pythoness, who comes out of the quiet of the grave. You shall be humbled and brought down, you who thought to rise! You shall speak out of the earth, of earthly things, you who once used to speak about heavenly things. Your speech, which once uttered burning words regarding the soul’s delight and abstinence from greed, shall be heard out of the ground, talking of the belly, of gluttony, and fine foods and drinks. Your voice shall be from the earth, from prelacy, like a python; and your speech shall mutter out of the ground, grumbling where once you found your strength in silence and in hope (cf. Is 30,15). What ‘needs’! What perversity! I bought a field, and I must needs go...
Go? In Genesis, we read how Esau went forth, a farmer and hunter; while Jacob, a simple man, stayed at home and took his blessing by stealth (cf. Gn 25,27-33). When someone, from love of temporal things, goes chasing off after a farm, or to consult a
pythoness, he leaves the quietude of his soul and, without a doubt, his eternal blessing is taken away. I must need go out and see it, see it just once, before I die! This is the only fruit of riches, as Ecclesiastes says:
Where there are great riches, there are also many to eat them.
And what doth it profit the owner, but that he seeth the riches with his eyes? (Qo 5,10)
There you have it! He who buys the field of earthly domination does not come to the Lord’s supper, but makes a false excuse, saying: I pray thee, hold me excused! His words sound humble, with his ‘I pray you’; but there is pride in his heart, and he is too proud to come. He often says to the just man, ‘Pray for me, I am a sinner.’ It sounds humble, this asking for prayers; but the pride is still there, because he does not reject his sin. There is a concordance to this in the first book of Kings, where Saul says to Samuel:
But now bear, I beseech thee, my sin: and return with me, that I may adore the Lord. (1S 15,25)
(A sermon on the five yoke of oxen, and their meaning: I have bought five yoke of oxen.)
8. And another said: I have bought five yoke of oxen, etc. The five yoke of oxen stand for the five senses of the body. As oxen are yoked together, so in pairs the organs of our senses serve us. There are two ears, two eyes, two nostrils; two organs of taste, the tongue and the palate; two hands for touching. These are the ten princes of which Solomon says in Ecclesiastes:
Wisdom hath strengthened the wise more than ten princes of the city. (Qo 7,20)
Wisdom is the love and contemplation of God, which strengthens the wise man, the soul which relishes the sweetness of love, more than ten princes of the city, that is, more than all the delights of the ten bodily senses. The former truly satisfy, the latter leave us wholly empty. The former leave a swet taste, the latter a bitter. Whoever serves the former is free, but whoever serves the latter is wretched. The man who buys the yoke of oxen makes a bad bargain. He spurns the savour of divine love and subjects himself to the unhappy appetite of the five senses, a wretched slavery.
If only a man would take on the Lord’s yoke, which is gentle, and not the harsh yoke of the devil! Isaiah says:
The yoke of their burden, and the rod of their shoulder, and the sceptre of their oppressor, thou hast overcome, as in the day of Madian. (Is 9,4)
See how Isaiah is concordant with the Gospel. What the Gospel calls a farm, Isaiah calls a rod; and what is termed a yoke of oxen is called the yoke of their burden; and what is called a wife in the one is called a sceptre in the other. The book of Judges tells how Gideon (whose name means ‘turning in the womb’) overcame Madian with three hundred men, and with trumpets and lamps. In the same way the penitent, who should turn around in the womb of contrition, should take ‘three hundred’ (the Trinitarian faith), together with the trumpets of confession and the lamps of satisfaction. With them he should overcome the yoke of the devil’s burden, the pleasures of the five senses with which the devil burdens the soul; and the rod of his shoulder, the desire to dominate with which the devil pricks the soul like a peasant poking his donkey with a stick; and the sceptre of his oppressor, the unruliness of the flesh expressed in a two-fold way, by gluttony and lust. The ruling sceptre is lust, which rules nearly everyone; and the oppressor is gluttony, which daily, under the guise of necessity, exacts the usury of pleasure.
(A sermon on the infestation of vices and on the mortification of the flesh: Naas the Ammonite came up.)
9. There is a concordance to this in the first book of Kings, where it says that
Naas the Ammonite came up, and began to fight against Jabes Galaad. And all the men of Jabes said to Naas: Make a covenant with us; and we will serve thee. And Naas answered them: On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may pluck out your right eyes, and make you a reproach to all nations in all the people of Israel. (1R 11,1-2)
And the spirit of the Lord came upon Saul, when he had heard these words; and his anger was exceedingly kindled. And taking both the oxen, he cut them in pieces. (1R 11,6-7)
‘Naas’ means ‘serpent’, so he is a fit symbol of the devil, who in the form of a serpent deceived our first parents. ‘Ammonite’ means ‘people of grief’, or else ‘crusher, squeezer’. Naas is king of the Ammonites, just as Satan the ancient serpent is prince of the malign spirits who dwell in the grief and sorrow which (according to the Apostle) works death (cf. 2Co 7,10). They crush and squeeze the life of the saints. Ecclesiasticus says:
As a furnace to gold, as a file to iron, and as a flail to wheat:
So is tribulation to the just man. (cf. Pr 27,21 Pr 27,17 Si 27,6)
The wicked man lives for the good, in the sense that his life benefits the good man, smoothing his rough places by his abrasiveness. Naas fights against Jabes Galaad
(‘dried out’ and ‘mound of witness’), the soul that first has to be parched of its vices and then filled with the witness of the Lord’s Passion. Naas fights against the men of Jabes Galaad, to pluck out their right eyes, because he knows that so maimed they will be less able to do battle. The right eye is the clear sight of discretion. The devil tries to pluck it out, leaving the left eye of worldly affection. He knows that the man who does not desire eternal things will love worldly prosperity. If he is held by earthly things, he will yield to the least attack.
He who wants to free his soul from the snares and traps of the devil, must do as it says afterwards: the spirit of the Lord came upon Saul, etc. Saul, the anointed king, was a good man at the start of his reign, when he freed this city. He represents the just man, anointed with the grace of God. When the spirit of the Lord, contrition of heart, comes upon him, he is angered against his past sins, and cuts the two oxen in pieces. The ‘two oxen’ are the two eyes, the two ears, and so on. He cuts the two oxen in pieces, when he wears out his eyes with tears, that have coveted what is not lawful. He cuts the two oxen in pieces, when he puts a thorny fence around his ears, so that they do not listen to detraction or flattery; and so with the rest of the senses. He offers as many sacrifices as he finds stumbling-blocks in himself.
10. And another said: I have married a wife, etc. It is not marriage, it is the abuse of marriage that leads many astray and holds them back from the Lord’s supper. They enter upon marriage, not to found a family, but from carnal desire. There are three good reasons for taking a wife. The first is the procreation of children, as Genesis says: Increase and multiply (Gn 1,28). The second is mutual help: It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself (Gn 2,18). The third is because of incontinence; as the Apostle says: If someone is not continent, let him marry, only in the Lord (cf. 1Co 7,9 1Co 7,39). If anyone marries for any other reason besides these, woe betide him! Furthermore, although marriage is a good thing in itself, it does bring with it considerable danger. As the Apostle says in I Corinthians: He that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world; how he may please his wife. And he is divided (1Co 7,33). He has a two-fold responsibility, towards God and towards his wife. It is difficult to walk the middle path, to divide one’s attention between each so as not to neglect either. We read in the first book of Kings that:
The two wives of David were taken captives, and David was greatly afflicted. (1S 30,5-6)
If had not had wives, he would undoubtedly not have been so greatly afflicted.
In the Gospel passage the ‘wife’ stands for the lust of the flesh, which is not ‘bought’ but ‘married’. Every sinner, from the moment of his birth, finds himself accompanied by the sins of the flesh. Yet we may ask why the first two asked to be excused, but not the third? The answer is that the pleasure of the flesh so holds a man in thrall that he neither desires to come to eternal joys, nor cares about excusing himself. From this it is clear that he does not love God; who at the prayers of the Old Testament patriarchs lovingly came down to the wedding, to espouse human nature to himself.
The second part of the Epistle is concordant to this second clause of the Gospel:
In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1Jn 3,16)
St John mentions three things: God, ourselves and our brethren. He who loves God does not buy the farm of domination. He who loves his own soul restrains the yoke of his five senses. He who loves his neighbour, for whom he should lay down his life, will in no wise marry the wife of lust, which would scandalize and offend him.
We ask you, then, Lord Jesus, to take away from us entirely the farm of domination; to restrain the pleasures of our five senses; and to keep us away from the wife of accursed concupiscence; so that we may be free to come to your supper. Grant this, you who are blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - (SECOND CLAUSE)