Leo the Great: sermons
A SELECT LIBRARY
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH WITH PROLEGOMENA AND EXPLANATORY NOTES,
UNDER THE EDITORIAL SUPERVISION OF
PHILIP SCHAFF, D.D.,
HENRY WACE, D.D,
Having been elected in absence2 he returns thanks for the kindness and earnestly demands the prayers of his church.
“Let my mouth speak the praise or the Lord3 ,” and my breath and spirit, my flesh and tongue bless His holy Name. For it is a sign, not of a modest, but an ungrateful mind, to keep silence on the kindnesses of God: and it is very meet to begin our duty as consecrated pontiff with the sacrifices of the Lord’s praise4 . Because “in our humility” the Lord “has been mindful of us5 ” and has blessed us: because “He alone has done great wonders for me6 ,” so that your holy affection for me reckoned me present, though my long journey had forced me to be absent. Therefore I give and always shall give thanks to our God for all the things with which He has recompensed me. Your favourable opinion also I acknowledge publicly, paying you the thanks I owe, and thus showing that I understand how much respect, love and fidelity your affectionate zeal could expend on me who long with a shepherd’s anxiety for the safety of your souls, who have passed so conscientious a judgment on me, with absolutely no deserts of mine to guide you. I entreat you, therefore, by the mercies of the Lord, aid with your prayers him whom you have sought out by your solicitations that both the Spirit of grace may abide in me and that your judgment may not change. May He who inspired you with such unanimity of purpose, vouchsafe to us all in common the blessing of peace: so that all the days of my life being ready for the service of Almighty Can, and for my duties towards you, I may with confidence entreat the Lord: “Holy Father, keep in Thy name those whom Thou hast given me7 :” and while you ever go on unto salvation, may “my soul magnify the Lord8 ,” and in the retribution of the judgment to come may the account of my priesthood so be rendered to the just Judge9 that through your good deeds you may be my joy and my crown, who by your good will have given an earnest testimony to me in this present life.
1 Natalisseems to have been applied to the day or anniversary of a Bishop’s consecration as well as to the festivals of Martyrs in the Calendar. Cf. Serm. IV. chap. 4, illi ergo hunc servitutis nostroe natalitium diem ascribamus.One reason for the shortness of this sermon, which used to be joined with Sermon II. (a few necessary alterations in the text of the latter being made) is, I think, rightly given by the Ballerinii: “perhaps” they say, “the unusual length of the ceremonies that day did not allow of a longer sermon.”
2 Viz. on his mission of reconciling Aetius and Albinus the Roman generals in Gaul: see Introduction.
3 Ps 144,21,
4 Especially of course in the Holy Euchrarist.
5 Ps 135,23-24.
6 Ps 135,23-24.
7 Jn 12,11.
8 Lc 1,46.
9 The words of S. Paul to the Thessalonians (1Th 2,19) are clearly in his mind.
I. The Lord Raises Up the Weak and Gives Him Grace According to His Need.
The Divine condescension has made this an honourable day for me, for it has shown by raising2 my humbleness to the highest rank, that He despised not any of His own. And hence, although one must be diffident of merit, yet it is one’s bounden duty to rejoice over the gift, since He who is the Imposer of the burden3 is Himself4 the Aider in its execution: and lest the weak recipient should fall beneath the greatness of the grace, He who conferred the dignity will also give the power. As the day therefore returns in due course on which the Lord purposed that I should begin my episcopal office, there is true cause for me to rejoice to the glory of God, Who that I might love Him much, has forgiven me much, and that I might make His Grace wonderful, has conferred His gifts upon me in whom He found no recommendations of merit. And by this His work what does the Lord suggest and commend to our hearts but that no one should presume upon his own righteousness nor distrust God’s mercy which shines out more pre-eminently then, when the sinner is made holy and the downcast lifted up. For the measure of heavenly gifts does not rest upon the quality of our deeds, nor in this world, in which “all life is temptation5 ,” is each one rewarded according to his deserving, for if the Lord were to take count of a man’s iniquities, no one could stand before His judgment.
II. The Mighty Assemblage of Prelates Testifies to Men’s Loyal Acceptance of Peter in Peter’s Unworthy Successor.
Therefore, dearly-beloved, “magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together6 ,” that the whole reason of to-day’s concourse may be referred to the praise of Him Who brought it to pass. For so far as my own feelings are concerned, I confess that I rejoice most over the devotion of you all; and when I look upon this splendid assemblage of my venerable brother-priests7 I feel that, where so many saints are gathered, the very angels are amongst us. Nor do I doubt that we are to-day visited by a more abundant outpouring of the Divine Presence, when so many fair tabernacles of God, so many excellent members of the Body of Christ are in one place and shine with one light. Nor yet I feel sure, is the fostering condescension and true love of the most blessed Apostle Peter absent from this congregation: he has not deserted your devotion, in whose honour you are met together. And so he too rejoices over your good feeling and welcomes your respect for the Lord’s own institution as shown towards the partners of His honour, commending the well ordered love of the whole Church, which ever finds Peter in Peter’s See, and from affection for so great a shepherd grows not lukewarm even over so inferior a successor as myself. In order therefore, dearly beloved, that this loyalty which you unanimously display towards my humbleness may obtain the fruit of its zeal, on bended knee entreat the merciful goodness of our God that in our days He will drive out those who assail us, strengthen faith, increase love, increase peace and deign to render me His poor slave, whom to show the riches of His grace He has willed to stand at the helm of the Church, sufficient for so great a work and useful in building you up, and to this end to lengthen our time for service that the years He may grant us may be used to His glory through Christ our Lord. Amen.
1 This sermon, which in the older editions used to be joined in one with the first was separated by the Ballerinii and assigned to the (1st?) anniversary of his pontifical consecration. Quesnel, Who did not go so far as to separate the two parts, saw that there were certain expressions in the first portion which did not suit the common title given to the whole in anniversario die assumptionis eius, proposed to alter it to in octava consecrationis eiusis dies (on the octave, &c).. I have adhered to the Balls division, though I am not entirely convinced by their arguments.
2 Provexit unwillingly altered by the Ball. from provehit, against all the mss., to suit their view.
3 Oneris, others honoris (advancement).
4 Ipse est, others (including Quesnel) ipse mihi fiet (future)).
5 Jb 7,1,
6 Ps 34,3,
7 The Ball. quote from several more or less contemporary authorities to prove that this concourse is more likely to have been on the anniversary than on the day of consecration itself and they say that such a celebration of the octave as Quesnel suggests is unknown to all antiquity.
I. The Honour of Being Raised to the Episcopate Must Be Referred Solely to the Divine Head of the Church.
As often as God’s mercy deigns to bring round the day of His gifts to us, there is, dearly-beloved, just and reasonable cause for rejoicing, if only our appointment to the office be referred to the praise of Him who gave it. For though this recognition of God may well be found in all His priests, yet I take it to be peculiarly binding on me, who, regarding my own utter insignificance and the greatness of the office undertaken, ought myself also to utter that exclamation of the Prophet,“ Lord, I heard Thy speech and was afraid: I considered Thy works and was dismayed1 .” For what is so unwonted and so dismaying as labour to the frail, exaltation to the humble, dignity to the undeserving? And yet we do not despair nor lose heart, because we put our trust not in ourselves but in Him who works in us. And hence also we have sung with harmonious voice the psalm of David, dearly beloved, not in our own praise, but to the glory of Christ the Lord. For it is He of whom it is prophetically written, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedeck2 ,” that is, not after the order of Aaron, whose priesthood descending along his own line of offspring was a temporal ministry, and ceased with the law of the Old Testament, but after the order of Melchizedeck, in whom was prefigured the eternal High Priest. And no reference is made to his parentage because in him it is understood that He was portrayed, whose generation cannot be declared. And finally, now that the mystery of this Divine priesthood has descended to human agency, it runs not by the line of birth, nor is that which flesh and blood created, chosen, but without regard to the privilege of paternity and succession by inheritance, those men are received by the Church as its rulers whom the Holy Ghost prepares: so that in the people of God’s adoption, the whole body of which is priestly and royal, it is not the prerogative of earthly origin which obtains the unction3 , but the condescension of Divine grace which creates the bishop).
II. From Christ and Through S. Peter the Priesthood is Handed on in Perpetuity.
Although, therefore, dearly beloved, we be found both weak and slothful in fulfilling the duties of our office, because, whatever devoted and vigorous action we desire to do, we are hindered by the frailty of our very condition; yet having the unceasing propitiation of the Almighty and perpetual Priest, who being like us and yet equal with the Father, brought down His Godhead even to things human, and raised His Manhood even to things Divine, we worthily and piously rejoice over His dispensation, whereby, though He has delegated the care of His sheep to many shepherds, yet He has not Himself abandoned the guardianship of His beloved flock. And from His overruling and eternal protection we have received the support of the Apostles’ aid also, which assuredly does not cease from its operation: and the strength of the foundation, on which the whole superstructure of the Church is reared, is not weakened4 by the weight of the temple that rests upon it. For the solidity of that faith which was praised in the chief of the Apostles is perpetual: and as that remains which Peter believed in Christ, so that remains which Christ instituted in Peter. For when, as has been read in the Gospel lesson5 , the Lord had asked the disciples whom they believed Him to be amid the various opinions that were held, and the blessed Peter bad replied, saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the Lord says, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and flood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father, which is in heaven. And I say to thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven6 .”
III. S. Peter’s Work is Still Carried Out by His Successors.
The dispensation of Truth therefore abides, and the blessed Peter persevering in the strength of the Rock, which he has received, has not abandoned the helm of the Church, which he undertook. For he was ordained before the rest in such a way that from his being called the Rock, from his being pronounced the Foundation, from his being constituted the Doorkeeper of the kingdom of heaven, from his being set as the Umpire to bind and to loose, whose judgments shall retain their validity in heaven, from all these mystical titles we might know the nature of his association with Christ. And still to-day he more fully and effectually performs what is entrusted to him, and carries out every part of his duty and charge in Him and with Him, through Whom he has been glorified. And so if anything is rightly done and rightly decreed by us, if anything is won from the mercy of God by our daily supplications, it is of his work and merits whose power lives and whose authority prevails in his See. For this, dearly-beloved, was gained by that confession, which, inspired in the Apostle’s heart by God the Father, transcended all the uncertainty of human opinions, and was endued with the firmness of a rock, which no assaults could shake. For throughout the Church Peter daily says, “Thou an the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and every tongue which confesses the Lord, accepts the instruction his voice conveys. This Faith conquers the devil, and breaks the bonds of his prisoners. It uproots us from this earth and plants us in heaven, and the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it. For with such solidity is it endued byGod that the depravity of heretics cannot mar it nor the unbelief of the heathen overcome it.
IV. This Festival Then is in S. Peter’s Honour, and the Progress of His Flock Redounds to His Glory.
And so, dearly beloved, with reasonable obedience we celebrate to-day’s festival by such methods, that in my humble person he may be recognized and honoured, in whom abides the care of all the shepherds, together with the charge of the sheep commended to him, and whose dignity is not abated even in so unworthy an heir. And hence the presence of my venerable brothers and fellow-priests, so much desired and valued by me, will be the more sacred and precious, if they will transfer the chief honour of this service in which they have deigned to take part to him whom they know to be not only the patron of this see, but also the primate of all bishops. When therefore we utter our exhortations in your ears, holy brethren, believe that he is speaking whose representative we are: because it is his warning that we give, nothing else but his teaching that we preach, beseeching you to “gird up the loins of your mind7 ,” and lead a chaste and sober life in the fear of God, and not to let your mind forget his supremacy and consent to the lusts of the flesh. Short and fleeting are the joys of this world’s pleasures which endeavour to turn aside from the path of life those who are called to eternity. The faithful and religious spirit, therefore, must desire the things which are heavenly, and being eager for the Divine promises, lift itself to the love of the incorruptible Good and the hope of the true Light. But be sure, dearly-beloved, that your labour, whereby you resist vices and fight against carnal desires, is pleasing and precious in God’s sight, and in God’s mercy will profit not only yourselves but me also, because the zealous pastor makes his boast of the progress of the Lord’s flock. “For ye are my crown and joy8 ,” as the Apostle says; if your faith, which from the beginning of the Gospel has been preached in all the world has continued in love and holiness. For though the whole Church, which is in all the world, ought to abound in all virtues, yet you especially, above all people, it becomes to excel in deeds of piety, because founded as you are on the very citadel of the Apostolic Rock, not only has our Lord Jesus Christ redeemed you in common with all men, but the blessed Apostle Peter has instructed you far beyond all men. Through the same Christ our Lord.
1 Ha 3,2,
2 Ps 110,4,
3 Quesnel is no doubt correct in taking this literally as alluding to the anointing of bishops at consecration: cf. Serm. IV. chap. 1). Sancti Spiritus unctio consecrat sacerdotes, and lower down he speaks of the effusum benedictionis unguentum : so also in Serm. LIX. chap. 7, sacratior est unctio sacerdotum).
4 We read lassescit with Hurter, instead of the unintelligible lacessit of the mss.
5 By the evangelica lectio is meant the Gospel for the day, just as for instance, in Sermon XXXIII. chap. 1, &c.
6 Mt 16,16-19.
7 1P 1,13,
8 1Th 2,20,
I. The Devil’s Wickedness in Leading Men Astray is Now Counteracted by the Work of Redemption in Restoring Them to the Truth.
God’s mercy and justice, dearly-beloved, has in loving-kindness disclosed to us through our Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching, the manner of His retributions, as they have been ordained from the foundation of the world, that accepting the significance of facts we might take what we believe will happen, to have, as it were, already come to pass. For our Redeemer and Saviour knew what great errors the devil’s deceit had dispersed throughout the world and by how many superstitions he had subjected the chief part of mankind to himself. But that the creature formed in God’s image might not any longer through ignorance of the Truth be driven on to the precipice of perpetual death, He inserted in the Gospel-pages the nature of His judgment that it might recover every man from the snares of the crafty foe; for now all would know what rewards the good might hope for and what punishments the evil must fear. For the instigator and author of sin in order first to fall through pride and then to injure us through envy, because “he stood not in the Truth2 ” put all his strength in lying and produced every kind of deceit from this poisoned source of his cunning, that he might cut off man’s devout hopes from that happiness which he had lost by his own uplifting, and drag them into partnership with his condemnation, to whose reconciliation he himself could not attain. Whoever therefore among men has wronged God by his wickednesses, has been led astray by his guile, and depraved by his villainy. For he easily drives into all evil doings those whom he has deceived in the matter of religion. But knowing that God is denied not only by words but also by deeds, many whom he could not rob of their faith, he has robbed of their love, and by choking the ground of their heart with the weeds of avarice, has spoiled them of the fruit of good works, when he could not spoil them of the confession of their lips.
II). God’s Just Judgment Against Sin is Denounced that We May Avoid It by Deeds of Mercy and Love.
On account therefore, dearly-beloved, of these crafty designs of our ancient foe, the unspeakable goodness of Christ has wished us to know, what was to be decreed about all mankind in the day of retribution, that, while in this life healing remedies are legitimately offered, while restoration is not denied to the contrite, and those who have been long barren can at length be fruitful, the verdict on which justice has determined may be fore-stalled and the picture of God’s coming to judge the world never depart from the mind’s eye. For the Lord will come in His glorious Majesty, as He Himself has foretold, and there will be with Him an innumerable host of angel-legions radiant in their splendour. Before the throne of His power will all the nations of the world be gathered; and all the men that in all ages and on all the face of the earth have been born, shall stand in the Judge’s sight. Then shall be separated the just from the unjust, the guiltless from the guilty; and when the sons of piety, their works of mercy reviewed, have received the Kingdom prepared for them, the unjust shall be upbraided for their utter barrenness, and those on the left having naught in common with those on the right, shall by the condemnation of the Almighty Judge be cast into the fire prepared for the torture of the devil and his angels, with him to share the punishment, whose will they choose to do. Who then would not tremble at this doom of eternal torment? Who would not dread evils which are never to be ended? But since this severity is only denounced in order that we may seek for mercy, we too in this present life must show such open-handed mercy that after perilous neglect returning to works of piety it may be possible for us to be set free from this doom. For this is the purpose of the Judge’s might and of the Saviour’s graciousness, that the unrighteous may forsake his ways and the sinner give up his wicket habits. Let those who wish Christ to spare them, have mercy on the poor; let them give freely to feed the wretched, who desire to attain to the society of the blessed. Let no man consider his fellow vile, nor despise in any one that nature which the Creator of the world made His own. For who that labours can deny that Christ claims that labour as done unto Himself? Your fellow-slave is helped thereby, but it is the Lord who will repay. The feeding of the needy is the purchase money of the heavenly kingdom and the free dispenser of things temporal is made the heir of things eternal. But how has such small expenditure deserved to be valued so highly except because our works are weighed in the balance of love, and when a man loves what God loves, he is deservedly raised into His kingdom, whose attribute of love has in part become his?
III. We Minister to Christ Himself in the Person of His Poor.
To this pious duty of good works, therefore dearly beloved, the day of Apostolic institution3 invites us, on which the first collection of our holy offerings has been prudently and profitably ordained by the Fathers; in order that, because at this season formerly the Gentiles used superstitiously to serve demons, we might celebrate the most holy offering of our alms in protest against the unholy victims of the wicked. And because this has been most profitable to the growth of the Church, it has been resolved to make it perpetual. We exhort you, therefore, holy brethren throughout the churches of your several regions4 on Wednesday next5 to contribute of your goods, according to your means and willingness, to purposes of charity, that ye may be able to win that blessedness in which he shall rejoice without end, who “considereth the needy and poor6 .” And if we are to “consider” him, dearly beloved, we must use loving care and watchfulness, in order that we may find him whom modesty conceals and shamefastness keeps back. For there are those who blush openly to ask for what they want and prefer to suffer privation without speaking rather than to be put to shame by a public appeal. These are they whom we ought to “consider” and relieve from their hidden straits in order that they may the more rejoice from the very fact that their modesty as well as poverty has been consulted. And rightly in the needy and poor do we recognize the person of Jesus Christ our Lord Himself, “Who though He was rich,” as says the blessed Apostle, “became poor, that He might enrich us by His poverty7 .” And that His presence might never seem to be wanting to us, He so effected the mystic union of His humility and His glory that while we adore Him as King and Lord in the Majesty of the Father, we might also feed Him in His poor, for which we shall be set free in an evil day from perpetual damnation, and for our considerate care of the poor shall be joined with the whole company of heaven.
IV. To Complete Their Acceptance by God, They Must Not Neglect to Lay All Information Against the Manichees Who are in the City.
But in order that your devotion, dearly beloved, may in all things be pleasing to God, we exhort you also to show due zeal in informing your presbyters of Manichees where- ever they be hidden8 . For it is naught but piety to disclose the hiding-places of the wicked, and in them to overthrow the devil whom they serve. For against them, dearly beloved, it becomes indeed the whole world and the whole Church everywhere to put on the armour of Faith: but your devotion ought to be foremost in this work, who in your progenitors learnt the Gospel of the Cross of Christ from the very mouth of the most blessed Apostles Peter and Paul. Men must not be allowed to lie hid who do not believe that the law given through Moses, in which God is shown to be the Creator of the Universe, ought to be received: who speak against the Prophets and the Holy Ghost, dare in their damnable profanity to reject the Psalms of David which are sung through the universal Church with all reverence, deny the birth of the Lord Christ, according to the flesh, say that His Passion and Resurrection was fictitious, not true, and deprive the baptism of regeneration of all its power as a means of grace. Nothing with them is holy, nothing entire, nothing true. They are to be shunned, lest they harm any one: they are to be given up, lest they should settle in any part of our city. Yours, dearly. beloved, will be the gain before the Lord’s judgment-seat of what we bid, of what we ask. For it is but right that the triumph of this deed also should be joined to the oblation of our alms, the Lord Jesus Christ in all things aiding us, Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
1 The Ballerinii in an excellent note have shown that the series of six Sermons de Collectis were delivered in connexion with the annual Collections then in vogue at Rome for the sick and poor of the seven city regions, These collections seem to have been continued for several consecutive days (cf. Serm. VI). primus collectarum dies, and Serm. X. chap. 4), and probably began on the 6th of, July (the octave of SS. Peter and Paul), the day on which in pagan times the Ludi Apollinares had alsa begun : this date being designedly chosen, as Leo himself says (Serm. VIII)., ad destruendas antiqui hostis insidias in die quo impii sub idolorum suorum nomine diabolo serviebant : cf. what he says also in the first and third chapter of this Sermon (IX)..
2 Jn 8,44.
3 Dies apostolicoe institutionis : this was, as note 6 explains, the octave of SS. Peter and Paul, but how far Leo actually attributes its institution to the Apostles themselves, is a little doubtful. In the next clause here he speaks of the Collection as a patribus ordinata (so too in Serm. VII). dies saluberime a sanctis patribus institutus, and Serm. XI. chap. 2: cf. Serm. X. chap. I, auctoritatem patrum); whereas in Sermon VIII. the day is said to be apostolicis traditionibus institutis, and in Serm. XI. chap. I, apostolicis didcimus institutis, and strongest of all the opening words of Serm. X. chap. I, apostolicoe traditionis instituta servantes ut diem quem illi ab impiorum consuetudine purgatum misericordioe operibus consecrarunt celebremus). Patres however often includes apostoli, e.g. Serm. LXXIII. chap. I, gratias agamus ...). sanctorum patrum necessarioe tarditati, where patrum = apostoli aliique discipuli. The fact is, as Bright points out upon a similar matter (the origin of Lent), Leo “would be prone to make that claim for any institute of his own church (see Bingham 21,I, 8).” (n. 103). On Serm. LXXIX. I the Ball. appropriately quote a dictum of S. Augustine’s that what the universal Church had always held is correctly credited with the authority of the Apostles.
4 Regionum, viz. the seven regions into which Rome was then divided see n. 6, above.
5 The Ball. wish to alter this to Thursday (against mss.) to suit their calculations, by which as the detection of Manichaeism at Rome, mentioned in chap. iv., occurred after the 6th of July, 443, this sermon must have been delivered in 444.
6 Ps 41,1,
7 2Co 8,9.
8 Cf. Lett. VII. and VIII.
I. Our Goods are Given Us Not as Our Own Possessions But for Use in God’s Service.
Observing the institutions of the Apostles’ tradition, dearly beloved, we exhort you, as watchful shepherds, to celebrate with the devotion of religious practice that day which they1 purged from wicked superstitions and consecrated to deeds of mercy, thus showing that the authority of the Fathers still lives among us, and that we obediently abide by their teaching. Inasmuch as the sacred usefulness of such a practice affects not only time past but also our own age, so that what aided them in the destruction of vanities, might contribute with us to the increase of virtues. And what so suitable to faith, what so much in harmony with godliness as to assist the poverty of the needy, to undertake the care of the weak, to succour the needs of the brethren, and to remember one’s own condition in the toils of others 2 . In which work He only who knows what He has given to each, discerns aright how much a man can and how much he cannot do. For not only are spiritual riches and heavenly gifts received from God, but earthly and material possessions also proceed from His bounty, that He may be justified in requiring an account of those things which He has not so much put in our possession as committed to our stewardship). God’s gifts, therefore, we must use properly and wisely, lest the material for good work should become an occasion of sin. For wealth, after its kind and regarded as a means, is good and is of the greatest advantage to human society, when it is in the bands of the benevolent and open-handed, and when the luxurious man does not squander nor the miser hoard it; for whether ill-stored or unwisely spent it is equally lost.
II. The Liberal Use of Riches is Worse Than Vain, If It Be for Selfish Ends Alone.
And, however praiseworthy it be to flee from intemperance, and to avoid the waste of base pleasures, and though many in their magnificence disdain to conceal their wealth, and in the abundance of their goods think scorn of mean and sordid parsimony, yet such men’s liberality is not happy, nor their thriftiness to be commended, if their riches are of benefit to themselves alone; if no poor folks are helped by their goods, no sick persons nourished; if out of the abundance of their great possessions the captive gets not ransom, nor the stranger comfort, nor the exile relief. Rich men of this kind are needier than all the needy. For they lose those returns which they might have for ever, and while they gloat over the brief and not always free enjoyment of what they possess, they are not fed upon the bread of justice nor the sweets of mercy: outwardly splendid, they have no light within: of things temporal they have abundance, but utter lack of things eternal: for they inflict starvation on their own souls, and bring them to shame and nakedness by spending upon heavenly treasures none of these things which they put into their earthly storehouses.
III. The Duty of Mercy Outweighs All Other Virtues.
But, perhaps there are some rich people, who, although they are not wont to help the Church’s poor by bounteous gifts, yet keep other commands of God, and among their many meritorious acts of faith and uprightness think they will be pardoned for the lack of this one virtue. But this is so important that, though the rest exist without it, they can be of no avail. For although a man be full of faith, and chaste, and sober, and adorned with other still greater decorations, yet if he is not merciful, he cannot deserve mercy: for the Lord says, “blessed are the merciful, for God shall have mercy upon them 3 .” And when the Son of Man comes in His Majesty and is seated on His glorious throne, and all nations being gathered together, division is made between the good and the bad, for what shall they be praised who stand upon the fight except for works of benevolence and deeds of love which Jesus Christ shall reckon as done to Himself? For He who has made man’s nature His own, has separated Himself in nothing from man’s humility. And what objection shall be made to those on the left except for their neglect of love, their inhuman harshness, their refusal of mercy to the poor? as if those on the right had no other virtues those on the left no other faults. But at the great and final day of judgment large-hearted liberality and ungodly meanness will be counted of such importance as to outweigh all other virtues and all other shortcomings, so that for the one men shall gain entrance into the Kingdom, for the other they shall be sent into eternal fire.
IV. And Its Efficacy, as Scripture Proves, is Incalculable.
Let no one therefore, dearly beloved, flatter himself on any merits of a good life, if works of charity be wanting in him, and let him not trust in the purity of his body, if he be not cleansed by the purification of almsgiving. For “almsgiving wipes out sin 4 ,” kills death, and extinguishes the punishment of perpetual fire. But he who has not been fruitful therein, shall have no indulgence from the great Re-compenser, as Solomon says, “He that closeth his ears lest he should hear the weak, shall himself call upon the Lord, and there shall be none to hear him5 .” And hence Tobias also, while instructing his son in the precepts of godliness, says, “Give alms of thy substance, and turn not thy face from any poor man: so shall it come to pass that the face of God shall not be turned from thee6 .” This virtue makes all virtues profitable; for by its presence it gives life to that very faith, by which “the just lives7 ,” and which is said to be “dead without works8 :” because as the reason for works consists in faith, so the strength of faith consists in works. “While we have time therefore,” as the Apostle says, “let us do that which is good to all men, and especially to them that are of the household of faith9 .” “But let us not be weary in doing good; for in His own time we shall reap10 .”And so the present life is the time for sowing, and the day of retribution is the time of harvest, when every one shall reap the fruit of his seed according to the amount of his sowing. And no one shall be disappointed in the produce of that harvesting, because it is the heart’s intentions rather than the sums expended that will be reckoned up. And little sums from little means shall produce as much as great sums from great means. And therefore, dearly beloved, let us carry out this Apostolic institution. And as the first collection will be next Sunday, let all prepare themselves to give willingly, that every one according to his ability may join in this most sacred offering. Your very alms and those who shall be aided by your gifts shall intercede for you, that you may be always ready for every good work in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who lives and reigns for ages without end. Amen.
1 See Serm. IX. n. 6, and chap. 3,n. 8.
2 i.e. apparently to do as you would be done by).
3 Mt 5,7.
4 Si 3,30, purifying power of almsgiving is a favourite thought with Leo: cf. for instance Serm. XII. chap. 4, and XVIII. chap. 3, where he says, castigatio corporis et instantia orationis tunc veram obtinent puritatem cum eleemosynarum sanctificatione nituntur. In several places he compares its cleansing effect to the waters of baptism: is e Serm. XX. chap. 3, in eleemosynis virtus quoedam est instituta baptismatis, qui sicut aqua extinguit ignem, si eleemosyna peccatum - ut nemo diffidat regenerationis sibi nitorem etiam post multa peccata restitui, qui eleemosynarum studuerit purificatione mundare , and again in Serm. VII. he says, unusquisque - in usus atque alimoniam pauperum de vestris facultatibus conferatis scientes proeter illud regenerationis lavacrum, in quo universorum ablutoe sunt maculoe peccatorum, hoc remedium infirmitati humanoe divinitus esse donatum ut si quod culparum in hac terrena habitatione contrahitur, eleemosynis deleatur.
5 Pr 21,13,
6 (one of the offertory sentences it will be remembered in the English Prayer-book).
7 Ha 2,4.
8 Jc 2,26,
9 Ga 2,9-10.
10 Ga 2,9-10.
Leo the Great: sermons