Anthony_Sermons - (PROLOGUE)
(A sermon on the Incarnation of Christ and on his Passion, and on the just man’s
way of life; on the three trees which were in paradise, and on the nature and meaning of the cedar and the hyssop: Solomon treated about trees.)
3. Let us say, then:
When the multitude pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Genesareth. And he saw two ships standing by the lake; but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. (Lc 5,1-2)
There is a concordance to this in the third book of Kings, where it says that:
Solomon treated about trees, from the cedar that is in Libanus, unto the hyssop that cometh out of the wall: and he discoursed of beasts, and of fowls, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And they came from all nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon and from all the kings of the earth who heard his wisdom. (1R 4,33-34)
The hyssop is a lowly herb that clings to the rock, and it represents the humility of Christ, who treated from the cedar to the hyssop inasmuch as he came down from the height of heavenly glory to the humility of the flesh. Alternatively, the cedar stands for the pride of the wicked, as in: The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars (Ps 28,5). Christ treats from the cedar to the hyssop, because he judges the hearts of the proud and of the humble. He also treated upon a tree when he hung upon the Cross. He then brought down the cedar, the arrogance of the world, to the lowliness of the hyssop, the folly of the Cross.
For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness;
but to them that are saved it is the power of God. (1Co 1,18)
Morally. Solomon treated about trees, etc. In paradise there were three trees: the tree of which Adam used to eat, the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These three trees are three powers: memory, will and reason. The fruit of memory is delight; the fruit of the will is good action; the fruit of reason is the discernment of good and evil. To ‘treat’ is to make enquiry by the various processes of reason, so as to arrive at the truth of a matter. The just man treats of these three trees, enquiring by the processes of reason whether he has placed and kept the goods of the Lord in the treasury of his memory: the humility and poverty of his Incarnation, the sweetness of his preaching, the Passion of Christ who was obedient even to the Cross. Whether he has loved God and neighbour with his will, and whether he has made a rational distinction between good and evil. This is the discourse of the just man, who treats even from the cedar that is in Libanus unto the hyssop that comes out of the wall.
Note that the cedar is a tall tree. Its scent is sweet, and its wood is too hard to be destroyed by wood-worm. Its scent drives serpents away, and when it is put in the fire it becomes wrinkled. The cedar is the life of the just man: tall in the elevation of a holy way of life, sweet-scented by example and good repute, enduring in the firmness of holy
intention, indestructible by the worm of deadly concupiscence, driving away the demons by compunction of mind, and repressing the motions of the flesh by self-discipline. It ‘wrinkles’, shrinking from its own will, in the fire of obedience. This cedar is in Libanus (which means ‘whiteness’), because the just man’s life consists in the whiteness of inward and outward purity. He treats from the cedar to the hyssop which comes from the wall. The hyssop is humility; the wall, flat and even, represents the unity of the saints. So the just man treats on the cedar of his life, mentally reviewing whether his life accords with the humility and unity of the saints.
4. What follows concerns Christ: He discoursed of beasts, etc. The ‘beasts’ represent the gluttonous and lustful; the ‘birds’ are the proud; the ‘creeping things’ are the avaricious; and the ‘fish’ are the over-critical. He treated of beasts when he said:
Take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life; (Lc 21,34)
of birds, when he said:
The birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head; (Mt 8,20)
of creeping things, when he said:
Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth; where the rust and moth consume, etc. (Mt 6,19)
and of fish, when he said:
Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites, because you go ropund about the sea and the land (that is, the whole world) to make one proselyte (Gentile convert), and, when he is made, you make him the child of hell twofold more than yourselves.(Mt 23,15)
When he sees your vices, he goes back to his paganism and by this backsliding deserves even greater punishment.
There follows; And they came from all nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon. And this is what is said in today’s Gospel: When the multitude pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Genesareth. A lake has the property of generating a breeze which accompanies the movement of its waves; yet it is a standing water, which does not flow away. It represents this present age, whose ups and downs may give rise to worldly praise, but it soon passes- as the Psalm says, Their memory hath perished with a noise (Ps 9,7), the applause and favour of the world. And just as waters are pent up in a lake, and do not flow away, so in this world the freedom of sinners is restricted, so that they are unable to find pleasure in their delights as much as they
would like. So Luke tells how the prodigal son would have liked to fill his belly with the husks of swine, yet no one would give him anything (cf. Lc 15,16). The ‘husks of swine’ mean the various pleasures of sin, with which the evil spirits are fattened like pigs. Often, they are not given to those who desire them: man sins more often than the devil tempts. Often, man anticipates the devil, if the devil does not get to him first. So Ezekiel says:
I will deliver thee up to the will of the daughters of the Philistines,
that are ashamed of thy wicked way. (Ez 16,27)
Shame indeed, if the devil blushes for a man’s sin, which he has not suggested; while the wretched man himself does not blush for his own sin!
5. So, Jesus stood by the lake, this world, so that he might preach God’s word to the lovers of this world. He stood beside it, because though he lived in this world, he despised, and taught us to despise, the worldly glory that is like a deep lake. There is a concordance to this in the third book of Kings, where it says that:
Elias found Eliseus the son of Saphat, ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen. And he was one of them that were ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen. And when Elias came up to him, he cast his mantle upon him. And he forthwith left the oxen and ran alter Elias, and said: Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said to him: Go, and return back; for that which was my part, I have done to thee. And returning back from him, he took a yoke of oxen, and killed them, and boiled the flesh with the plough of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they ate. (1R 19,19-21)
Morally. Our Redeemer, coming down from heaven, acquired a people by divine judgement, while they were still gaping at earthly works. He made salvation in them, when he converted them to faith. Elijah means ‘the Lord is God’, Saphat is ‘judging’, Elisha is ‘salvation of my God’. The prophet cast his mantle over him, when the Lord clothed his people with the catholic faith. So the Apostle says: You who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ (Ga 3,27). He forthwith left the oxen and ran after Elias, because the choir of the chosen, as soon as they hear the words: Every one of you that doth not renounce all that he possesseth cannot be my disciple (Lc 14,33), stop gaping at earthly riches and serving worldly desires, and go to preach the word of life to others. This is ‘kissing father and mother’, the wish to correct with a word whoever one can, whether Jew or Gentile.
He took a yoke of oxen, etc. This means flesh and spirit, whose ‘flesh’ (carnal desires) we should boil with the ‘plough’ of heart-felt contrition, and give to the people to eat. In this way, we feed with the example of true penitence those whom we have scandalized by our evil life.
(A sermon on the two harlots and their children, and what they mean: There came two harlots.)
6. There follows: And he saw two ships, etc. These two ships are Jerusalem and Babylon, Paradise and Egypt, Abel and Cain, Jacob and Esau: that is, the congregation of true penitents and the guilty gathering of worldlings. All humanity is divided into these two groups. They are the two harlots, concerning which there is a concordance in the third book of Kings, where it says that there came two women that were harlots, to king Solomon. (It was fitting that harlots came to him, who later led him astray!)
And one of them said: I beseech thee, my lord, I and this woman dwelt in one house, and I was delivered of a child with her in the chamber. And the third day, alter that I was delivered, she also was delivered: and we were together, and no other person with us in the house, only we two. And this woman’s child died in the night: for in her sleep she overlaid him. And rising in the dead time of the night, she took my child from my side, while I thy handmaid was asleep, and laid it in her bosom: and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but considering him more diligently when it was clear day, I found that it was not mine which I bore. And the other woman answered: It is not so as thou sayest, but thy child is dead, and mine is alive. On the contrary she said: Thou liest; for my child liveth, and thy child is dead. And in this manner they strove before the king. Then said the king: Bring me a sword. And when they had brought a sword before the king, Divide, saith he, the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. But the woman whose child was alive said to the king (for her bowels were moved upon her child): I beseech thee, my lord, give her the child alive, and do not kill it. But the other said: Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. The king answered, and said: Give the living child to this woman, and let it not be killed; for she is the mother thereof. (1R 3,16-22 1R 3,24-27)
Harlots are women who earn their living from lust. These two harlots stand for two ways of life, namely, of true penitents and of carnal folk. But pay attention! We represent the life of true penitents by a harlot, not because it is prostitution, since it is already converted to its spouse; but because it used to be prostitution when it was still clinging to the devil. There is something similar in Luke: When Jesus was in the house of Simon the leper (Mc 14,3), meaning, not that he was a leper, but that he had been a leper. These lives are the two rods of which Zechariah says:
And I took unto me two rods: one I called Beauty, and the other I called a Cord. (Za 11,7)
The life of penitents is called a rod, and beauty. It is a rod because it is set under the rigour of discipline, beauty because it is cleansed by tears from all the leprosy of sin. The life of carnal people is called a cord, because they are bound in the cords of their sins.
How many evils are inflicted by Cain on Abel, by Esau on Jacob, by carnal folk on penitents, is shown by what follows: I and this woman dwelt in one house, etc. These are the two ships anchored in the lake. The lake and the house, in which the two women live, stand for the world. Penitents and carnal people both give birth; but on the third day penitents bring forth works of light, the heritage of eternal life, in bitterness of heart. Of
this birth, it is said: A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow (Jn 16,21). Carnal people bring forth works of darkness, children of hell, in the pleasure of the flesh. Of them Solomon says in Proverbs; They are glad when they have done evil, and rejoice in most wicked things (Pr 2,14). This, too, is ‘on the third day’: first they conceive in the consent of their mind, from the adulterous suggestions of the devil; then they carry, in the intention of an evil will; thirdly they give birth to sin in the effective action.
And we were together, and no other person with us in the house, only we two. They live together in the world; as Job says:
I was the brother of dragons, and companion of ostriches. (Jb 30,29)
On the threshing floor, there is both grain and chaff; in the wine-press, there is both wine and pips, oil and dregs.
There follows: And this woman’s child died, etc. The work of carnal folk perishes, choked by the guilt that follows it. In the night of evil intention, in blindness of mind, the child of this woman is slain. For in her sleep she overlaid him. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that are drunk, are drunk in the night (cf. 1Th 5,7).
And rising in the dead time of the night, etc. Dead, indeed, when nothing can be done, and all is still. The word suggests ‘untimely’, the deep dark midst of the night. St Gregory1 explains this text as applying to worldly teachers, "who fail to practise what they preach, and so kill their hearers by bodily sleep, stifling them by their neglect, even while they seem to nourish them with the milk of their words. While they live disgracefully, they cannot have praiseworthy disciples, They try to attract others, so that while they appear to have good followers, they excuse their own bad actions before human judgement, and cover up their deadly neglect with the life of their subjects. The woman who killed her own child sought that of another; but Solomon’s sword discovered the true mother, because at the last judgement the wrath of the judge will examine and show forth whose offspring lives, and whose is dead. But note that first the order is given to divide the living child, so that afterwards he may be returned to his mother alone. In this life, it is granted that the life of the disciple be as it were divided: having merit before God, on the one hand, and praise from men on the other. But the false mother, who has not given the child birth, does not scruple to kill it. Arrogant teachers, devoid of charity, if they cannot get the fullest respect and praise from other people’s disciples, they cruelly seek their lives. Burning with envy, they will not let others live, if they cannot possess them themselves. Let it be neither mine nor thine. If they do not see them bowing to them, to their temporal honour, they begrudge them living for others in truth. The true mother strives to let her child live, even with another; and true teachers would rather other teachers got credit from their disciples, rather than that they should lose the integrity of their lives. The true mother is recognised by her loving heart, and teaching is proved entirely by the test of charity. Only she who was prepared to lose everything deserved to gain everything. Faithful leaders, because they do not begrudge the praise good disciples give to others, but even pray for their success, will themselves receive
back their children, alive and whole, when at the last judgement they receive perfect recompense for their lives."
So much for the two ships and their concordances. Let us move on.
(A sermon on Peter’s ship, and what its equipment signifies: Be all of one mind.)
7. There follows: The fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. Note that the fishermen were gone out of both ships, that of penitents and that of carnal people. Penitents go out from what they are by grace to what they are by nature, from the level of a more excellent life to the consideration of their own frailty. Carnal people go out from their swollen pride to the dust of penitence. They washed their nets. The Gloss says that someone folds up his washed nets when he leaves aside the duty of preaching, in order to try and fulfil what he has taught to others.
So, in the Introit of today’s Mass, he prays:
Hear my voice, O Lord, with which I have cried to thee:
Be thou my helper, forsake me not; do not thou despise me, O God my Saviour. (Ps 26,7)
Note that Peter’s ship, the life of penitents who are rightly turned towards their Spouse, prays for three things: to be heard, to be not forsaken, and to be not despised. To be heard in prayer, to be not forsaken when persecuted by enemies, to be not despised for sins committed.
The first part of today’s Epistle is concordant with this first clause, wherein blessed Peter speaks to the children of the ship entrusted to him, saying:
Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble; not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing: for unto this are you called, that you may inherit a blessing. (1P 3,8-9)
When Peter saw the ship entrusted to him tossed by the waves of the wild sea, exposed to wind and danger, he brought it, like a good captain, to a peaceful and calm harbour; and so with wonderful teaching made for it mast and sail, rudder and anchor, and oars on either side. He said: Be ye all of one mind; there is the mast in the midst of the ship, unity in faith and heart. They had but one heart and one soul (Ac 4,32). Having compassion: that is the sail, for as a sail pulls along a ship, so compassion pulls you towards your neighbour’s need. The Apostle says to the Corinthians: If one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it (1Co 12,26). Lovers of the brotherhood: that is the rudder. Just as the rudder steers the ship aright, and does not let it go off
course (and in that is the main ability to bring it to harbour), so fraternal charity guides the gathering of the faithful, so that it does not go astray, and brings it to safe harbour. Where there is charity and love, there is the gathering of the saints. Merciful: that is the anchor. The hooked and curved anchor grips with its hook, and being held fast, holds the ship fast. In the same way mercy, taking hold of our neighbour from the heart, is taken hold of by our neighbour, and both holds and is held, binds and is bound. Thus bound, the ship of the soul cannot be moved from its quiet stability, either by the waves of temptation or the blasts of evil suggestion. Modest, humble: those are the right-hand oars; not rendering evil for evil, but contrariwise, blessing: those are the left-hand oars.
If our ship is prepared and equipped with these eight, it will steer a right course to the blessing of the eternal inheritance, and reach the harbour of everlasting rest. May he grant this, who is blessed and glorious for ever and ever. Amen.
(An allegorical and a moral sermon on Solomon’s navy, and both the allegorical and moral senses of the gold, silver, elephants’ teeth, apes and peacocks: King Solomon’s navy.)
8. There follows, secondly:
and going up into one of the ships that was Simon’s, he desired him to draw back a little from the land. And sitting, he taught the multitude out of the ship. Now when he had ceased to speak, he said to Simon: Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. (Lc 5,3-4)
There is a concordance to this in the third book of Kings, where it says:
King Solomon’s navy went by sea to Tharsis; and brought from thence gold, and silver, and elephants’ teeth, and apes, and peacocks. (1R 10,22)
King Solomon’s navy and Peter’s ship have the same meaning. A ship needs a skilled captain who knows how to steer her through the perils and dangers of the sea. So Proverbs says:
He that understandeth shall possess governments. (Pr 1,5)
The ship is the Church of Jesus Christ, committed to Peter’s care. It needs a skilled helmsman, not a fool, not a wrecker, to keep it safe among dangers. It is Solomon’s navy, sailing across the sea of this world to Tharsis (meaning ‘joy’s discovery’), to those who find joy in this world and take pleasure in it. The gold is human wisdom, the silver is philosophers’ eloquence; the elephants’ teeth are mighty teachers, who chew the food of the word for little ones. The apes, who mimic human activity but live like beasts, are those who come from heathenism to the faith, seeming to hold the faith yet denying it by their deeds. The peacocks, whose dried flesh is said to remain without decay, and who are clad in beautiful plumage, are the perfect: who are smoked in the fire of tribulation so as to be adorned with all kinds of virtue. These are all brought by the Church’s preaching from Tharsis, from the salt waves of the world, to our Solomon, Jesus Christ.
9. Morally. Solomon’s navy is the mind of the penitent, which goes through the sea of bitter contrition, to Tharsis: to discover what it has done or left undone, sin and all the circumstances of sin; where it comes from, where it is and where it is going, how frail this wretched flesh is, and how weak and unreliable is worldly prosperity. So Genesis tells how Joseph said to his brothers:
You are spies. You are come to view the weaker parts of the land. (Gn 42,9)
That is, every day they consider the frailty and weakness of their flesh, in bitterness of soul. They are Joshua’s spies, to whom he said:
Go and view the land, and the city of Jericho. (Jos 2,1)
Jericho (meaning ‘moon’) stands for the changeable prosperity of the world. Just men who investigate it so as to attack it find in it nothing but bitterness and sorrow. From this exploration they carry back gold, silver, and so on. The gold is a purified conscience, the silver is the confession of praise. The elephants’ teeth are self-accusation and selfreproof, the apes are the consideration of their own defilement, the peacocks are the casting away of past glory.
Of the first two, Job says:
Silver hath beginnings of its veins: and gold hath a place wherein it is melted. (Jb 28,1)
The beginning of the veins is the human heart; therefore from the heart a man should dig out silver, the confession of divine praise. But Jeremiah says:
O Lord, thou art near their mouth and far from their reins. (Jr 12,2)
The heart of carnal folk is in their reins, their lusts; while God’s praise is on their lips.
This people honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. (Mt 15,8)
The beginning of the veins, from which should flow silver, is far from God. How, then, can the sweet silver of praise sound in the Almighty’s ear, he who says: Son, give me thy heart (Pr 23,26), and: God looks at the heart (cf. Ps 7,10)? And gold hath a place wherein it is melted. The glory of our conscience is purified in the smelting-oven of selfexamination. This is the place for gold, not the human tongue wherein gold is destroyed
if it is smelted. Wretched is he who trusts more in another’s tongue than in his own conscience: many fear a bad name, but few a bad conscience! The great thing is not to be praised, but to be praiseworthy!
(Further on the nature and meaning of elephants and peacocks.)
10. Regarding the teeth of self-accusation and self-reproof, Job says: I tear my flesh with my teeth (Jb 13,14). Someone ‘tears their flesh with their teeth’ when they rightly rebuke and accuse their own carnality. Penitent men are aptly represented by elephants, for these are said to be kindly animals. If they find a man lost in the desert, they show him the way to familiar paths. If they come across sheep caught in briars, they tread out a smooth and safe path for them. The oldest walks first in line, the next in age brings up the rear. When they are about to cross a river, they send the smallest in front, in case the bigger ones wear away the bank as they enter, and make deep eddies when they disturb the shallows. In the same way just men should be gentle, leading the lost back to the path, making a way for simple souls (the sheep) with the kindness and gentleness of their actions, so that they can travel unharmed. By example and advice they should lead others; and when crossing the river of this world to our homeland, they should let the little ones go first, showing compassion and mercy to beginners who have not yet been hardened in holiness, in case, being inexperienced in the austere way of the perfect, they fall away discouraged from the work they have started.
The apes represent the consideration of foul and filthy things that have been committed. Apes have no tails, with which to cover their shameful and dirty parts. True penitents, likewise, have no cause to excuse themselves, to cover up their sins. They uncover the shameful things they have done, nakedly and openly, blushing in God’s sight alone, not that of men.
Peacocks represent the putting away of temporal glory. Take note: the peacock sheds its feathers when the first tree sheds its leaves. Afterwards, when the trees put forth new leaves, it gains new plumage. The ‘first tree’ stands for Jesus Christ, who was planted in the garden of delight, the womb of the blessed Virgin. The leaves of the tree are his words; and when the preacher drops them in preaching for the sinner to pick up, the latter sheds his own feathers, that is, his riches. In the general resurrection, when all the trees (the saints) begin to make new leaves, then he who has cast away the feathers of temporal things will receive the plumage of immortality. And just as there is beauty in the feathers of the peacock, and dirt on its feet (considering which, I would say, its beauty is lessened): so penitents cast away the glory of this world by remembering their lowly and earthy nature. This, then, is the merchandise that penitents carry back, when they do not fail to examine themselves and what belongs to them every day.
(A sermon against prelates and priests of the Church: He desired him to draw back a little.) 11
11. And going up into one of the ships that was Simon’s, he desired him to draw back a
little from the land. The Lord asks the prelate of his Church to draw back a little from the land: to withdraw what is entrusted to his guidance from the love of earthly things. If he sticks to the land, hunched and bent to the earth, how can he withdraw others from the land? When Moses set off to Egypt with his wife and children (as Exodus tells), an angel tried to kill him. But when he left his wife and children, the angel let him go (cf. Ex 4,24-26). So it is that the prelates and priests of our day (who are signified by Moses) literally have wives and children, who creep after the priests and shout ‘Woe! Woe!’ Isaiah says of them: The ass-colts shall eat mingled provender (Is 30,24). The Hebrew word denotes a mixture of chopped straw mingled with corn. Our priests’ income today consists of two things: the straw of earthly business and the corn of Church offerings. The ass-colts, the priests’ children, eat this mixture. They want to free God’s people from the devil’s captivity, with a wife and children! The Lord will meet them and kill them, unless they separate from their wives and children. When they have done so, the Lord will say:
‘Draw the ship back a little from the land.’
(An allegorical sermon on Holy Church: King Solomon made a throne.)
12. There follows: And sitting, he taught the multitude out of the ship. There is a concordance to this in the third book of Kings:
King Solomon made a great throne of ivory: and overlaid it with the finest gold. It had six steps: and the top of the throne was round behind. And there were two hands on either side holding the seat: and two lions stood, one at each hand. And twelve little lions stood upon the six steps on the one side and on the other. There was no such work made in any kingdom. (1R 10,18-20)
This text can be explained in three ways: first about the Church, then about the soul, and thirdly about the blessed Virgin Mary.
About the Church: Solomon’s throne means the Church, wherein our Prince of Peace reigns and pronounces his judgements. It is fitting said to be made of ivory, because the elephant (whose bone it is) is the most sagacious of animals, and is modest when he mates, and takes no second mate. This is a fitting image for those who follow Christ’s precepts by chastity. He ‘covers it with gold’, making the splendour of his glory shine in it by his miracles. In six days God perfected the adornment of the world, and this number, by its perfection, signifies the perfection of his works. On the seventh, God rested. And because the world is made in six ages, wherein it is lawful to work, whoever wants to reach the heavenly home should hasten to go up by good works. The roundness of the throne behind represents eternal rest, which will come to the saints after this life. Whoever works well here will receive a reward and enjoy everlasting rest. The hands holding the seat represents the comfort of divine grace, which bears the Church towards the heavenly kingdom. There are two, because this is preached in both Testaments, and nothing good can be achieved without divine help. The two lions represent the patriarchs of the two Testaments, who by strength of soul learned to rule themselves and others. They stand beside the hands, because the holy fathers attributed the good they did not to themselves, but to God: Not to us, O Lord, not to us: but to thy name give glory (Ps
113B.1). The twelve little lions stand for the preaching order, which follows the apostolic teaching. They stand on the six steps, on either side, because they strive to reinforce the performance of good works by their teaching and example.
(A moral sermon on the faithful soul: King Solomon made a throne. It also speaks of the nature of elephants and their moral significance, and on the significance of the four elements.)
13. King Solomon made, etc. To achieve any work, two things are necessary: wisdom and power. Wisdom makes ready, power performs. Jesus Christ, the power and wisdom of God (cf. 1Co 1,24), made himself a throne to rest upon. This throne is the soul of any just person, whom Jesus Christ created by wisdom out of nothing, and recreated by power when she was lost. He made a throne to rest in, because the soul of the just is the seat of wisdom. He said, through Isaiah:
To whom shall I have respect, but to the humble and quiet, and that trembleth at my words? (Is 66,2)
And Ecclesiasticus says:
The king, that sitteth on the throne, scattereth away all evil with his look. (Pr 20,8)
In this way Jesus Christ, the King of kings, sits upon his throne, resting in the soul. He scatters all the evil of the world, the flesh and the devil by his look, the respect of his grace.
He made a great throne of ivory, etc. Let us see what is meant by the ivory, the fine gold, the six steps, the round top behind, the two hands and the seat, the two lions and the twelve little lions. Ivory comes from elephants, and it is said that there is an age-old conflict between elephants and dragons. The serpents set traps in this cunning way. They lurk near the paths by which the elephants roam about their customary pastures. When the first in line have gone by, they attack those behind so that the leaders cannot help them. First they knot themselves about their legs, so that thus entangled they cannot move. The elephants, however, rub themselves against trees or rocks, so as to kill the snakes by the heavy pressure. The main cause of this struggle is that the elephants’ blood is cooler, and so they are caught by the fiercely burning stream from the dragons. For this reason the latter only attack those who have taken much drink, so that with more flowing in their veins, they may draw more abundantly from them as they squeeze them. And they attack the eyes above all, which are most vulnerable, and the inside of the ears.
The elephants are just men; the dragons are the demons, between whom and the just there is always conflict. The demons set traps for the feet of the just (their affections), and it is with these that the just kill the serpents themselves. They are slain from the very spot in which they tried to inject their poison. The burning lust of the demons tries to
destroy the chastity of the saints, and they attack most fiercely when they see them given to gluttony, which inflames the coolness of chastity. Above all, they aim at the eyes, which they know to be the first way in for lust. Alternatively: they first attack the eyes, reason and understanding which are the eyes of the soul, to pluck them out; and they would stop up their ears so that they could not hear the word of God. The words, a great ivory throne, are well-chosen; it is ‘ivory’ as regards chastity, ‘great’ as to heavenly contemplation.
He overlaid it with the finest gold. The vesture of the soul is faith, which is golden when lit up by the brightness of charity. Of this vesture the book of Wisdom says:
In the priestly robe which Aaron wore was the whole world. (Sg 18,24)
The vesture of faith should, by the worker’s love, contain the four elements of which all the world is made: the fire of charity, the air of contemplation, the water of compunction and the earth of humility.
It had six steps: the abhorrence of sin, self-accusation, forgiveness of injuries received, compassion for one’s neighbour, despite of self and the world, and the achievement of final perseverance.
And the top of the throne was round behind. The top of the throne is the burning desire of the soul to see God; ‘behind’, that is, at the end of life, it will be ‘round’, passing from hope to vision. As the Psalm says: The hinder parts of her back with the paleness of gold (Ps 67,14). The ‘hinder parts’ of the dove (that is, the soul) stand for eternal blessedness. They are ‘with the paleness of gold’, that is, with the contemplation of the divine majesty.
And there were two hands on either side holding the seat: this refers to the foot-stool, which was of gold. The seat is obedience, held by the two hands of the remembrance of the Lord’s Passion, and the recollection of one’s own sin. Beside these two hands two lions stand: hope and fear. Hope stands beside the remembrance of the Lord’s Passion, and obedience is freely given to this example, whereby we hope to have what we believe in. The lion of fear stands by the recollection of our sins, threatening the danger of eternal death if one does not obey.
And twelve little lions stood upon the six steps on the one side and on the other. The twelve little lions are those twelve virtues the Apostle enumerates, saying:
The fruit of the Spirit is: charity, joy, peace, patience, longanimity, goodness, benignity, mildness, faith, modesty, chastity, continence. (Ga 5,22-23)
The spirit of the just man, as it were the first little lion, contains all these.
(A sermon on the blessed Virgin Mary: King Solomon made; and the seven steps
of the throne.)
14. King Solomon made, etc. Blessed Mary is called the throne of the true Solomon; whence Ecclesiasticus says of her:
I dwelt in the highest places, and my throne is in a pillar of cloud. (Si 24,7)
That is as if to say: I, who dwell in the highest with the Father, have chosen a throne in a poor little mother. Note that the blessed Virgin, the throne of the Son of God, is called a pillar of cloud; a pillar, because she supports our frailty; of cloud; of cloud, because she is immune from sin. This throne was ‘of ivory’, because blessed Mary was white in virtue of her innocence, and cold, without the heat of lust.
In her were six steps, as is noted in the Gospel: The angel Gabriel was sent (Lc 1,26-38). The first was modesty: She was troubled at his saying. It is said that ‘Modesty is to be commended in a child, cheerfulness in a youth, and prudence in an old man.’ Secondly, prudence: she did not say yes or no immediately, she began by thinking: She thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. Thirdly, modesty: How shall this be done? Fourthly, constancy in her good intention: Because I know not man.Fifthly, humility: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Sixthly, obedience: Be it done to me.
This throne was overlaid with the gold of poverty. O golden poverty of the glorious Virgin, which wrapped around the Son of God and laid him in the manger! We may well think of poverty as a robe, which clothes the soul in virtue, yet strips it of wealth.
And the top of the throne was round behind. The ‘top’ of blessed Mary was charity, in virtue of which she holds the highest place hereafter, in eternal bliss, without beginning or end.
And there were two hands on either side holding the seat. The ‘seat’, the golden footstool, was the humility of blessed Mary, held by the two hands of the active and the contemplative life. She was like Martha and Mary. She was Martha as she went into Egypt and returned; she was Mary when she kept all these words, pondering them in her heart (Lc 2,19).
And two lions stood, Gabriel and John the Evangelist, or else Joseph and John, on either side of the hands: Joseph on the active side, John on the contemplative.
And twelve little lions, the twelve Apostles, venerating her and obeying her on either side. Truly, truly, such a work was never made in all kingdoms, for "Nothing like was ever seen, nor will it be again"2 Many daughters have gathered together riches; the blessed Virgin Mary has surpassed them all (cf. Pr 31,29). So someone has said: "If the Virgin alone were to be silent, no-one else’s voice would be heard."
(A sermon against priests: Hear.)
15. There follows: Now when he had ceased to speak, he said to Simon: Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. ‘Deep’ may apply to what is above and what is below. We call the heavens ‘deep’, we call the sea ‘deep’. He says to Simon Peter (that is, to any bishop): Launch out into the deep; and he says to his assistants, immediately afterwards, Let down your nets for a draught. Unless the ship of the Church is steered into the deep waters of holiness by its commander, the priests will not let down the nets to catch anything, but will ‘turn aside victims into the depth’.
So Hosea says:
Hear ye this, O priests... for there is a judgement against you, because you have been a snare to them whom you should have watched over, and a net spread upon Thabor. And you have turned aside victims into the depth. (Os 5,1-2)
Note these three: ‘snare’, ‘net’ and ‘turned aside’. They represent three vices of priests, namely negligence, avarice, and gluttony and lust.
Negligence: you have been a snare to them whom you should have watched over.
Priests are appointed to keep watch, but by their negligence those they watch over fall into the devil’s snare.
Avarice: and a net spread upon Thabor. The Lord was transfigured upon mount Thabor. The name means ‘coming light’, and it represents the altar upon which occurs the transfiguration, or transubstantiation of the forms of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. By this sacrament, light comes into the souls of the faithful. On this mount Thabor priests ( I would rather call them ‘traders’) spread the net of their avarice in order to amass money. They celebrate Masses for fees, and if they do not think they will get any, they will not celebrate Mass at all. They make the sacrament of salvation an instrument of greed.
Gluttony and lust: And you have turned aside victims into the depth. The ‘victims’ are the offerings of the faithful, which they divert from their proper object to gluttony and lust. A ‘victim’ originally meant what was slain in sacrifice. The offerings of the faithful, whom they scorn, go to fatten their flocks and herds, their ‘housekeepers’ and their children. It was commanded in the Law that: A mamzer, that is to say, one born of a prostitute, shall not enter into the house of the Lord (Dt 23,2). Behold, the sons of whores not only enter the Lord’s house, but consume its goods!
16. The second part of the Epistle is concordant to this second clause:
He that will love life and see good days, etc. (1P 3,10)
Blessed Peter took this text from the psalm of David (Ps 33,13-17), which contains three things, the eternal glory of the just, the life of penitents, and the punishment of evil-doers:
eternal glory, when he says: He that will love life;
the life of penitents, in: Let him refrain his tongue;
the punishment of evil-doers, by adding: The countenance of the Lord is upon them that do evil things.
True penitence consists in these six things: to refrain the tongue from evil, since, "I reckon that the first virtue is to hold one’s tongue; total silence mends evil speech."3 to speak no guile: Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? Assuredly, He that hath not used deceit in his tongue (Ps 14,1). to decline from evil: this is not enough, unless he adds, to do good; to seek after peace, inwardly: that is, to look for it in yourself; if you find it, you will undoubtedly have peace with God and your neighbour, and pursue it: with final perseverance.
The merciful eyes of the Lord are on those who do these things, and his kindly ears hear their prayers. The punishment of evil-doers is expressed by, The countenance of the Lord (meaning, his frown) is upon them that do evil things. These three things (glory, penitence and punishment) are what Jesus Christ preached to the crowds when he entered the ship, and his Vicar does not cease from preaching them every day.
Dearest brothers, let us pray the Lord Jesus Christ himself to make us go up into Simon’s ship by obedience; to sit in the ivory throne of humility and chastity; to steer our ship away from earthly things towards the deep of contemplation; and to let down our nets for a catch: so that with a multitude of good works we may attain to him, who is the good and supreme God. May he be pleased to grant us this, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - (PROLOGUE)