Leo the Great: sermons 2028
I. The Incarnation an Unceasing Source a Joy.
Though all the divine utterances exhort us, dearly beloved, to “rejoice in the Lord always1 ,” yet to-day we are no doubt incited to a full spiritual joy, when the mystery of the Lord’s nativity is shining brightly upon us2 , so that we may have recourse to that unutterable condescension of the Divine Mercy, whereby the Creator of men deigned to become man, and be found ourselves in His nature whom we worship in ours. For God the Son of God, the only-begotten of the eternal and not-begotten Father, remaining eternal “in the form of God,” and unchangeably and without time3 possessing the property of being no way different to the Father He received “the form of a slave” without loss of His own majesty, that He might advance us to His state and not lower Himself to ours. Hence both natures abiding in possession of their own properties such unity is the result of the union that whatever of Godhead is there is inseparable from the manhood: and whatever of manhood, is indivisible from the Godhead.
II. The Virgin’s Conception Explained.
In celebrating therefore the birthday of our Lord and Saviour, dearly beloved, let us entertain pure thoughts of the blessed Virgin’s child-bearing, so as to believe that at no moment of time was the power of the Word wanting to the flesh and soul which she conceived, and that the temple of Christ’s body did not previously receive its form and soul that its Inhabitant might come and take possession but through Himself and in Himself was the beginning given to the New Man, so that in the one Son of God and Man there might be Godhead without a mother, and Manhood without a Father. For her virginity fecundated by the Holy Spirit at one and the same time brought forth without trace of corruption both the offspring and the Maker of her race. Hence also the same Lord, as the Evangelist relates, asked of the Jews whose son they had learnt Christ to be on the authority of the Scriptures, and when they replied that the tradition was He would come of David’s seed, “How,” saith He, “doth David in the Spirit call Him Lord, saying, the Lord said to my Lord: sit thou on My right hand till I place thy enemies as the footstool of thy feet4 ?” And the Jews could not solve the question put, because they did not understand that in the one Christ both the stock of David and the Divine nature were there prophesied.
III. In Redeeming Man, Justice as Well as Mercy Ad to Be Considered.
But the majesty of the Son of God in which He is equal with the Father in its garb of a slave’s humility feared no diminution, required no augmentation: and the very effect of His mercy which He expended on the restitution of man, He was able to bring about solely by the power of His Godhead; so as to rescue the creature that was made in the image of God from the yoke of his cruel oppressor. But because the devil had not shown himself so violent in his attack on the first man as to bring him over to his side without the consent of His free will, man’s voluntary sin and hostile desires had to be destroyed in such wise that the standard of justice should not stand in the way of the gift of Grace. And therefore in the general ruin of the entire human race there was but one remedy in the secret of the Divine plan which could succour the fallen, and that was that one of the sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression, to prevail for the rest both by His example and His merits. Still further, because this was not permitted by natural generation, and because there could be no offspring from our faulty stock without seed, of which the Scripture saith, “Who can make a clean thing conceived of an unclean seed? is it not Thou who art alone5 ?” David’s Lord was made David’s Son, and from the fruit of the promised branch6 sprang. One without fault, the twofold nature coining together into one Person, that by one and the same conception and birth might spring our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom was present both true Godhead for the performance of mighty works and true Manhood for the endurance of sufferings.
IV. All Heresies Proceed from Failure to Believe the Twofold Nature of Christ.
The catholic Faith then, dearly beloved, may scorn the errors of the heretics that bark against it, who, deceived by the vanity of worldly wisdom, have forsaken the Gospel of Truth, and being unable to understand the Incarnation of the Word, have constructed for themselves out of the source of enlighten-merit occasion of blindness. For after investigating almost all false believers’ opinions, even those which presume to deny the Holy Spirit, we come to the conclusion that hardly any one has gone astray, unless he has refused to believe the reality of the two natures in Christ under the confession of one Person. For some have ascribed to the Lord only manhood7 , others only Deity8 . Some have said that, though there was in the true Godhead, His flesh was unreal9 . Others have acknowledged that He took true flesh but say that He had not the nature of God the Father; and by assigning to His Godhead what belonged to His human substance, have made for themselves a greater and a lesser God, although there can be in true Godhead no grades: seeing that whatever is less than God, is not God10 . Others recognizing that there is no difference between Father and Son, because they could not understand unity of Godhead except in unity of Person, have maintained that the Father is the same as the Son11 : so that to be born and nursed, to suffer and die, to be buried and rise again, belonged to the same Father who sustained throughout the Person of both Man and the Word. Certain have thought that our Lord Jesus Christ had a body not of our substance but assumed from higher and subtler elements12 : whereas certain others have considered that in the flesh of Christ there was no human soul, but that the Godhead of the Word Itself fulfilled the part of soul13 . But their unwise assertion passes into this form that, though they acknowledge the existence of a soul in the Lord, yet they say it was devoid of mind, because the Godhead of Itself was sufficient for all purposes of reason to the Man as well as to the God in Christ. Lastly the same people have dared to assert that a certain portion of the Word was turned into Flesh, so that in the manifold varieties of this one dogma, not only the nature of the flesh and of the soul but also the essence of the Word Itself is dissolved.
V.nestorianism and Eutychianism are Particularly to Be Avoided at the Present Time.
There are many other astounding falsehoods also which we must not weary your ears, beloved, with enumerating. But after all these various impieties, which are closely connected by the relationship that exists between one form of blasphemy and another, we call your devout attention to the avoiding of these two errors in particular: one of which, with Nestorius for its author, some time ago attempted to gainground, but ineffectually; the other, which is equally damnable, has more recently sprung up with Eutyches as its propounder. The former dared to maintain that the blessed Virgin Mary was the mother of Christ’s manhood only, so that in her conception and childbearing no union might be believed to have taken place of the Word and the Flesh: because the Son of God did not Himself become Son of Man, but of His mere condescension linked Himself with created man. This can in no wise be tolerated by catholic ears, which are so imbued with the gospel of Truth that they know of a surety there is no hope of salvation for mankind unless He were Himself the Son of the Virgin who was His mother’s Creator. On the other hand this blasphemous propounder of more recent profanity has confessed the union of the two Natures in Christ, but has maintained that the effect of this very union is that of the two one remained while the substance of the other no longer existed, which of course could not have been brought to an end except by either destruction or separation14 . But this is so opposed to sound faith that it cannot be entertained without loss of one’s Christian name. For if the Incarnation of the Word is the uniting of the Divine and human natures, but by the very fact of their coming together that which was twofold became single, it was only the Godhead that was born of the Virgin’s womb, and went through the deceptive appearance of receiving nourishment and bodily growth: and to pass over all the changes of the human state, it was only the Godhead that was crucified, dead, and buried: so that according to those who thus think, there is no reason to hope for the resurrection, and Christ is not “the first-begotten from the dead15 ;” because He was not One who ought to have been raised again, if He had not been One who could be slain.
VI. The Deity and the Manhood Were Present in Christ from the Very First.
Keep far from your hearts, dearly beloved, the poisonous lies of the devil’s inspirations, and knowing that the eternal Godhead of the Son underwent no growth while with the Father, be wise and consider that to the same nature to which it was said in Adam, “Thou art earth, and unto earth shall thou go16 ,” it is said in Christ, “sit Thou on My right hand17 .” According to that Nature, whereby Christ is equal to the Father, the Only-begotten was never inferior to the sublimity of the Father; nor was the glory which He had with the Father a temporal possession; for He is on the very right hand of the Father, of which it is said in Exodus, “Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorified in power18 ;” and in Isaiah, “Lord, who hath believed our report? and the arm of the Lord, to whom is it revealed19 ?” The man, therefore, assumed into the Son of God, was in such wise received into the unity of Christ’s Person from His very commencement in the body, that without the Godhead He was not conceived, without the Godhead He was not brought forth, without the Godhead He was not nursed. It was the same Person in the wondrous acts, and in the endurance of insults; through His human weakness crucified, dead and buried: through His Divine power, being raised the third day, He ascended to the heavens, sat down at the right hand of the Father, and in His nature as man received from the Father that which in His nature as God He Himself also gave20 .
VII. The Fulness of the Godhead is Imparted to the Body (the Church) Through the Head, (Christ).
Meditate, dearly beloved on these things with devout hearts, and be always mindful of the apostle’s injunction, who admonishes all men, saying, “See lest any one deceive you through philosophy and vain deceit according to the tradition of men, and not according to Christ; for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and ye have been filled in Him21 .” He said not “spiritually” but “bodily,” that we may understand the substance of flesh to be real, where there is the dwelling in the body of the fulness of the Godhead: wherewith, of course, the whole Church is also filled, which, clinging to the Head, is the body of Christ; who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, God for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Ph 4,4,
2 Nativitatis Dominicoe sacramento nobis clarius coruscante : cf. XXVI. chap. 1, note 1. I have no doubt that sacramentum here is almost equivalent to “the festival with its sacred observances” (cf. Bright’s n. 8), but I have preferred to translate it as uniformly as possible by the same word “mystery.” Cf. Sermon XXXI. chap. 1.
3 In contradiction of the Arian’s position hn pote ote oujk hn :cf. Lett. XXVIII. (Tome ),chap,2, de oeterno natus est cooeternus: non posterior tempore.
4 Mt 22,43-44, quoted from Ps 110,1.
5 Jb 14,4,
6 Germinis preferred to the older reading generiss by the Ballerinii as agreeing better with Is 40,1 and Jr 23,5.
7 These were called ‘Psilanthropists’ (upholders of the mere manhood): of whom Cerinthus (the opponent of S. John) was the earliest propounder.
8 These are heretics like Sabellius the founder of the Patripassian impiety.
9 These are ’Docetists,’ to whom Leo in Sermon LXV., chap. 4, compares the Eutychians isti phantasmatici Christiani.Simon Magus was the earliest exponent of this view.
10 These are Arians who, as Bright (n. 29) points out, In wishing to pacify the catholics by exalting the character of Christ without acknowledging His equality with the Father, fell into the error of setting up two Gods (an Uncreate and a Created).
11 This is the heresy alluded to in note 3 above).
12 (Ab elementis superioribus et subtilioribus sumptum, cf. Serm. XXX. chap. 2, de sublimioris generis pro diisse materia. This is the modification of “Docetism” adopted by the Gnostic Valentinus (see (Bright’s note 31).
13 This is the view of Apollinaris.
14 It is doubtful whether Eutyches did ever actually say this, but it was the logical inference from his position: as Gore (p 57), says "Eutyches never formulated a heresy: he was no philosopher; but he refused to say that the human nature remained in Christ after the Incarnation. He shrank from calling Christ ‘of one substance0’ with us men: in some sort of way he left us to suppose that the human nature was absorbed into and lost in the Divinity.
15 Col 1,18,
16 Gn 3,19,
17 Ps 109,1,
18 Ex 16,6,
19 Is 53,1.
20 Cf. Lett. XXVIII. (Tome), chap. 6.
21 Col 2,8-10.
I. The Epiphany a Necessary Sequel to the Nativity.
After celebrating but lately the day on which immaculate virginity brought forth the Saviour of mankind, the venerable feast of the Epiphany, dearly beloved, gives us continuance of joy, that the force of our exultation and the fervour of our faith may not grow cool, in the midst of neighbouring and kindred mysteries1 . For it concerns all men’s salvation, that the infancy of the Mediator between God and men was already manifested to the whole world, while He was still detained in the tiny town. For although He had chosen the Israelitish nation, and one family out of that nation, from whom to assume the nature of all mankind, yet He was unwilling that the early days of His birth should be concealed within the narrow limits of His mother’s home: but desired to be soon recognized by all, seeing that He deigned to be born for all. To three2 wise men, therefore, appeared a star of new splendour in the region of the East, which, being brighter and fairer than the other stars, might easily attract the eyes and minds of those that looked on it, so that at once that might be observed not to be meaningless, which had so unusual an appearance. He therefore who gave the sign, gave to the beholders understanding of it, and caused inquiry to be made about that, of which He had thus caused understanding, and after inquiry made, offered Himself to be found.
II. Herod’s Evil Designs Were Fruitless. The Wise Men’s Gifts Were Consciously Symbolical.
These three men follow the leading of the light above, and with stedfast gaze obeying the indications of the guiding splendour, are led to the recognition of the Truth by the brilliance of Grace, for they supposed that a king’s birth was notified in a human sense3 , and that it must be sought in a royal city. Yet He who had taken a slave’s form, and had come not to judge, but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His nativity, Jerusalem for His passion. But Herod, hearing that a prince of the Jews was born, suspected a successor, and was in great terror: and to compass the death of the Author of Salvation, pledged himself to a false homage. How happy had he been, if he had imitated the wise men’s faith, and turned to a pious use what he designed for deceit. What blind wickedness of foolish jealousy, to think thou canst overthrow the Divine plan by thy frenzy. The Lord of the works, who offers an eternal Kingdom, seeks not a temporal. Why dost thou attempt to change the unchangeable order of things ordained, and to forestall others in their crime? The death of Christ belongs not to thy time. The Gospel must be first set on foot, the Kingdom of God first preached, healings first given to the sick, wondrous acts first performed. Why dost thou wish thyself to have the blame of what will belong to another’s work, and why without being able to effect thy wicked design, dost thou bring on thyself alone the charge of wishing the evil? Thou gainest nothing and cattiest out nothing by this intriguing. He that was born voluntarily shall die of His own free will. The Wise men, therefore, fulfil their desire, and come to the child, the Lord Jesus Christ, the same star going before them. They adore the Word in flesh, the Wisdom in infancy, the Power in weakness, the Lord of majesty in the reality of man: and by their gifts make open acknowledgment of what they believe in their hearts, that they may show forth the mystery of their faith and understanding4 . The incense they offer to God, the myrrh to Man, the gold to the King, consciously paying honour to the Divine and human Nature in union: because while each substance had its own properties, there was no difference in the power5 of either.
III. The Massacre of the Innocents is in Harmony with the Virgin’s Conception, Which Again Teaches Us Purity of Life.
And when the wise men had returned to their own land, and Jesus had been carried into Egypt at the Divine suggestion, Herod’s madness blazes out into fruitless schemes. He orders all the little ones in Bethlehem to be slain, and since he knows not which infant to fear, extends a general sentence against the age he suspects. But that which the wicked king removes from the world, Christ admits to heaven: and on those for whom He had not yet spent His redeeming blood, He already bestows the dignity of martyrdom. Lift your faithful hearts then, dearly-beloved, to the gracious blaze of eternal light, and in adoration of the mysteries dispensed for man’s salvation6 give your diligent heed to the things which have been wrought on your behalf. Love the purity of a chaste life, because Christ is the Son of a virgin. “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul7 ,” as the blessed Apostle, present in his words as we read, exhorts us, “In malice be ye children8 ,” because the Lord of glory conformed Himself to the infancy of mortals. Follow after humility which the Son of God deigned to teach His disciples. Put on the power of patience, in which ye may be able to gain9 your souls; seeing that He who is the Redemption of all, is also the Strength of all. “Set your minds on the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth10 .” Walk firmly along the path of truth and life: let not earthly things hinder you for whom are prepared heavenly things through our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Inter cognatarum solemnitatum vicina sacramenta, cf. Serm. XXVIII. chap. 1, note 1.
2 The number “three” has no further scriptural support than the possible inference from their threefold offerings. It will be noticed that S. Leo knows nothing of their being kings, though that tradition is apparently as old as Tertullian (adv. Mc 3,13), see Bright’s n. 38.
3 Humano sensu significatum sibi regis ortum, "by them natural thoughts’ in Bright’s translation: but I doubt whether the words could bear that meaning, and whether they suit the context: cf. Serm. XXXIV. chap. 2.
4 Sacramentum fidei suoe intelligentioeque : here sacramentumseems to come nearer to the older and more general use of the word among the Fathers, viz. symbol or sign.
5 “He means, Christ had a king’s power, both as GOD and as Man,” Bright, n. 42.
6 Impensa humanoe saluti sacramenta.
7 1P 2,11.
8 1Co 14,20,
9 Acquirere, Lc 21,19. It is not clear from this whether in Leo’s time the reading was future, “ye shall win” (R.V)., or imperative, “possess ye” (A.V).. The Vulgate now reads Possidebitis.
10 Col 3,2,
I. When We Were Yet Sinners, Christ Came to Save.
Although I know, dearly-beloved, that you are fully aware of the purpose of to-day’s festival, and that the words of the Gospel1 have according to use unfolded it to you, yet that nothing may be omitted on our part, I shall venture to say on the subject what the Lord has put in my mouth: so that in our common joy the devotion of our hearts may be so much the more sincere as the reason of our keeping the feast is better understood. The providential Mercy of God, having determined to succour the perishing world in these latter times, fore-ordained the salvation of all nations in the Person of Christ; in order that, because all nations had long been turned aside from the worship of the true God by wicked error, and even God’s peculiar people Israel had well-nigh entirely fallen away from the enactments of the Law, now that all were shut up under sin2 , He might have mercy upon all.
For as justice was everywhere failing and the whole world was given over to vanity and wickedness, if the Divine Power had not deferred its judgment, the whole of mankind would have received the sentence of damnation. But wrath was changed to forgiveness, and, that the greatness of the Grace to be displayed might be the more conspicuous, it pleased God, to apply the mystery of remission to the abolishing of men’s sins at a time when. no one could boast of his own merits.
II. The Wise Men from the East are Typical Fulfilments of God’s Promise to Abraham.
Now the manifestation of this unspeakable mercy, dearly-beloved, came to pass when Herod held the royal power in Judea, where the legitimate succession of Kings having failed and the power of the High-priests having been overthrown, an alien-born had gained the sovereignty: that the rising of the true King might be attested by the voice of prophecy, which had said: “a prince shall not fail from Juda, nor a leader from his loins, until He come for whom it is reserved3 , and He shall be the expectation of the nations.” Concerning which an innumerable succession was once promised to the most blessed patriarch Abraham to be begotten not by fleshly seed but by fertile faith; and therefore it was compared to the stars in multitude that as father of all the nations he might hope not for an earthly but for a heavenly progeny. And therefore, for the creating of the promised posterity, the heirs designated under the figure of the stars are awakened by the rising of a new star, that the ministrations of the heaven might do service in that wherein the witness of the heaven had been adduced. A star more brilliant than the other stars arouses wise men that dwell in the far East, and from the brightness of the wondrous light these men, not unskilled in observing such things, appreciate the importance of the sign: this doubtless being brought about in their hearts by Divine inspiration, in order that the mystery of so great a sight might not be hid from them, and, what was an unusual appearance to their eyes, might not be obscure to their minds. In a word they scrupulously set about their duty and provide themselves with such gifts that in worshipping the One they may at the same time show their belief in His threefold function: with gold they honour the Person of a King, with myrrh that of Man, with incense that of God4 .
III. The Chosen Race is No Longer the Jews, But Believers of Every Nation.
And so they enter the chief city of the Kingdom of Judaea, and in the royal city ask that He should be shown them Whom they had learnt was begotten to be King. Herod is perturbed: he fears for his safety, he trembles for his power, he asks of the priests and teachers of the Law what the Scripture has predicted about the birth of Christ, he ascertains what had been prophesied: truth enlightens the wise men, unbelief blinds the experts: carnal Israel understands not what it reads, sees not what it points out; refers to the pages, whose utterances it does not believe. Where is thy boasting, O Jew? where thy noble birth drawn from the stem of Abraham? is not thy circumcision become uncircumcision5 ? Behold thou, the greater servest the less6 , and by the reading of that covenant7 which thou keepest in the letter only, thou becomest the slave of strangers born, who enter into the lot of thy heritage. Let the fulness of the nations enter into the family of the patriarchs, yea let it enter, and let the sons of promise receive in Abraham’s seed the blessing which his sons, according to the flesh, renounce their claim to. In the three Magi8 let all people worship the Author of the universe: and let God be known not in Judaea alone, but in all the world, so that everywhere “His name” may be “great in Israel9 .” For while the dignity of the chosen race is proved to be degenerate by unbelief in its descend ants, it is made common to all alike by our belief.
IV. The Massacre of the Innocents Through the Consequent Flight of Christ, Brings the Truth into Egypt.
Now when the wise men had worshipped the Lord and finished all their devotions, according to the warning of a dream, they return not by the same route by which they had come. For it behoved them now that they believed in Christ not to walk in the paths of their old line of life, but having entered on a new way to keep away from the errors they had left: and it was also to baffle Herod’s design, who, under the cloke of homage, was planning a wicked plot against the Infant Jesus. Hence when his crafty hopes were overthrown, the king’s wrath rose to a greater fury. For reckoning up the time which the wise men had indicated, he poured out his cruel rage on all the men-children of Bethlehem, and in a general massacre of the whole of that city10 slew the infants, who thus passed to their eternal glory, thinking that, if every single babe was slain there, Christ too would be slain. But He Who was postponing the shedding of His blood for the world’s redemption till another time, was carried and brought into Egypt by his parents’ aid, and thus sought the ancient cradle of the Hebrew race, and in the power of a greater providence dispensing the princely office of the true Joseph, in that He, the Bread of Life and the Food of reason that came down from heaven, removed that worse than all famines under which the Egyptians’ minds were labouring, the lack of truth11 , nor without that sojourn would the symbolism of that One Victim have been complete ; for there first by the slaying of the lamb was fore-shadowed the health-bringing sign of the Cross and the Lord’s Passover.
V. We Must Keep This Festival as Thankful Sons of Light.
Taught then, dearly-beloved, by these mysteries of Divine grace, let us with reasonable joy celebrate the day of our first-fruits and the commencement of the nations’ calling: “giving thanks to” the merciful God “who made us worthy,” as the Apostle says, “to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light: who delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love12 :” since as Isaiah prophesied, “the people of the nations that sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined13 .” Of whom he also said to the Lord, “nations which knew not thee, shall call on thee: and peoples which were ignorant of thee, shall run together unto thee14 .” This day “Abraham saw and was glad15 ,” when he understood that the sons of his faith would be blessed in his seed that is in Christ, and foresaw that by believing he should be the father of all nations, “giving glory to God and being fully assured that What He had promised, He was able also to perform16 .” This day David sang of in the psalms saying: “all nations that thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord: and they shall glorify Thy name17 ;” and again: “The Lord hath made known His salvation: His righteousness hath He openly showed in the sight of the nations18 .” This in good truth we know to have taken place ever since the three wise men aroused in their far-off land were led by a star to recognize and worship the King of heaven and earth,[which to those who gaze aright ceases not daily to appear. And if it could make Christ known when concealed in infancy, how much more able was it to reveal Him when reigning in majesty]19 . And surely their worship of Him exhorts us to imitation; that, as far as we can, we should serve our gracious God who invites us all to Christ. For whosoever lives religiously and chastely in the Church and “sets his mind on the, things which are above, not on the things that are upon the earth20 ,” is in some measure like the heavenly light: and whilst he himself keeps the brightness of a holy life, he points out to many the way to the Lord like a star. In which regard, dearly-beloved, ye ought all to help one another in turn, that in the kingdom of God, which is reached by right faith and good works, ye may shine as the sons of light: through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Secundum consuetudinem evangelicus sermo reseraverit. The Roman Gospel for the day was apparently then, as now with us, Mt 2,1-12: but the manifestation of Christ to the wise men was not universally so prominent a feature of the Festival as other manifestations of Him, e.g. His birth (Jan. 6 having been in the East the original Christmas Day), His baptism, &c.
2 Ga 3,22 Rm 11,32,
3 Gn 49,10, donec veniat cui repositum est (w" ajpokei`tai), cf. Ez 21,27: the reading of A. and R. VV. is “until Shiloh come;” the LXX. read e(w" a]n e[lqh ta; ajpokeivmena aujtw`, and the Vulgate, donec veniat qui mittendus erat. Origen paraphrases thus: “He should come for Whom the things were reserved, that is, the Christ of GOD, the Prince of the Divine promises. He alone could be called the expectation of the nations, for men of all nations believed in God through Him, according to the words of Isaiah. ‘In His name shall the Gentiles trust.’” Hom. in Genesin xvii. § 6).
4 Cf. Serm. XXXI. chap. 2, above.
5 Rm 2,25,
6 Gn 25,23,
7 Or “will” (testamenti, diaqhvkh").
8 Cf. Sermon XXXI. chaps. 1,and ii.
9 Ps 76,1,
10 Coede generali universoe civitatis illius ; as the context shows, this phrase is rhetorically exaggerated.
11 Cf. Sermon XXXII. chap. 1, Tunc autem Aegypto Salvator illatus est, ut gens antiquis erroribus dedita, iam ad vicinam salutem per occultam gratiam vocaretur; et quoe nondum eje cerat ab animo superstitionem, iam reciperet veritatem).
12 Col 1,12-13.
13 Is 9,2,
14 Is 55,5.
15 Jn 8,56.
16 Rm 4,21,
17 Ps 86,9,
18 Ps 98,2.
19 Both Quesnel and the Ballerinii condemn this passage inclosed in brackets as spurious. The former thinks it has crept into the text ex annotatione marginali alicuius astrologioe plus oequo dediti. It is wanting in all the mss. melioris notoe.
20 Col 3,2.
I. The Yearly Observance of the Epiphany is Profitable to Christians.
It is the right and reasonable duty of true piety, dearly-beloved, on the days which bear witness to the works of Divine mercy, to rejoice with the whole heart and to celebrate with all honour the things which have been wrought for our salvation: for the very law of recurring seasons calls us to such devout observance, and has now brought before us the feast of the Epiphany, consecrated by the Lord’s appearance soon after the clay on which the Son of God co-eternal with the Father was born of a Virgin. And herein the providence. of God has established a great safeguard to our faith, so that, whilst the worship of the Saviour’s earliest infancy is repeated year by year, the production of true man’s nature in Him might be proved by the original verifications themselves. For this it is that justifies the ungodly, this it is that makes sinners saints, to wit the belief in the true Godhead and the true Manhood of the one Jesus Christ, our Lord: the Godhead, whereby being before all ages “in the form of God” He is equal with the Father: the Manhood whereby in the last days He is united to Man in the “form of a slave.” For the confirmation therefore of this Faith which was to be fore-armed against all errors, it was a wondrous loving provision of the Divine plan that a nation which dwelt in the far-off country of the East and was cunning in the art of reading the stars, should receive the sign of the infant’s birth who was to reign over all Israel. For the unwonted splendour of a bright new star appeared to the wise men and filled their mind with such wonder, as they gazed upon its brilliance, that they could not think they ought to neglect what was announced to them with such distinctness. And, as the event showed, the grace of God was the disposing cause of this wondrous thing: who when the whole of Bethlehem itself was still unaware of Christ’s birth, brought it to the knowledge of the nations who would believe, and declared that which human words could not yet explain, through the preaching of the heavens.
II. Both Herod and the Wise Men Originally Had an Earthly Conception of the Kingdom Signified; But the Latter Learnt the Truth, the Former Did Not.
But although it was the office of the Divine condescension to make the Saviour’s Nativity recognizable to the nations, yet for the under standing of the wondrous sign the wise men could have had intimation even from the ancient prophecies of Balaam, knowing that it was predicted of old and by constant repetition spread abroad: “A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a man shall rise out of Israel, and shall rule the nations1 .” And so the three men aroused by God through the shining of a strange star, follow the guidance of its twinkling light, thinking they will find the babe designated at Jerusalem in the royal city. But finding themselves mistaken in this opinion, through the scribes and teachers of the Jews they learnt what the Holy Scripture had foretold of the birth of Christ; so that confirmed by a twofold witness, they sought with still more eager faith Him whom both the brightness of the star and the sure word of prophecy revealed. And when the Divine oracle was proclaimed through the chief priests’ answers and the Spirit’s voice declared, which says: “And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, art not least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a leader to rule My people Israel2 ,” how easy and how natural it was that the leading men among the Hebrews should believe what they taught! But it appears that they held material notions with Herod, and reckoned Christ’s kingdom as on the same level as the powers of this world: so that they hoped for a temporal leader while he dreaded an earthly rival. The fear that racks thee, Herod, is wasted; in vain dost thou try to vent thy rage on the infant thou suspectest. Thy realm cannot hold Christ; the Lord of the world is not satisfied with the narrow limits of thy sway. He, whom thou dost not wish to reign in Judaea, reigns everywhere: and thou wouldst rule more happily thyself, if thou wert to submit to His command. Why dost thou not do with sincerity what in treacherous falseness thou dost promise? Come with the wise men, and in suppliant adoration worship the true King. But thou, from too great fondness for Jewish blindness, wilt not imitate the nations’ faith, and directest thy stubborn heart to cruel wiles, though thou art doomed neither to stay Him whom thou fearest nor to harm them whom thou slayest.
III. The Perseverance of the Magi Has Led to the Most Important Results.
Led then, dearly beloved, into Bethlehem by obeying the guidance of the star, the wise men “rejoiced with very great joy,” as the evangelist has told us: “and entering the house, found the child with Mary, His mother; and falling down they worshipped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh3 .” What wondrous faith of perfect knowledge, which was taught them not by earthly wisdom, but by the instruction of the Holy Spirit! Whence came it that these men, who had quitted their country without having seen Jesus, and had not noticed anything in His looks to enforce such systematic adoration, observed this method in offering their gifts? unless it were that besides the appearance of the star, which attracted their bodily eyes, the more refulgent rays of truth taught their hearts that before they started on their toilsome road, they must understand that He was signified to Whom was owed in gold royal honour, in incense Divine adoration, in myrrh the acknowledgment of mortality. Such a belief and understanding no doubt, as far as the enlightenment of their faith went, might have been sufficient in themselves and have prevented their using their bodily eyes in inquiring into that which they had beheld with their mind’s fullest gaze. But their sagacious diligence, persevering till they found the child, did good service for future peoples and for the men of our own time: so that, as it profited us all that the apostle Thomas, after the Lord’s resurrection, handled the traces of the wounds in His flesh, so it was of advantage to us that His infancy should be attested by the visit of the wise men. And so the wise men saw and adored the Child of the tribe of Judah, “of the seed of David according to the flesh4 ,” “made from a woman, made under the law5 ,” which He had come “not to destroy but to fulfil6 .” They saw and adored the Child, small in size, powerless to help others7 , incapable of speech, and in nought different to the generality of human children. Because, as the testimonies were trustworthy which asserted in Him the majesty of invisible Godhead, so it ought to be impossible to doubt that “the Word became flesh,” and the eter- nal essence of the Son of God took man’s true nature: lest either the inexpressible marvels of his acts which were to follow or the infliction of sufferings which He had to bear should overthrow the mystery of our Faith by their inconsistency: seeing that no one at all can be justified save those who believe the Lord Jesus to be both true God and true Man.
IV. The Manichoean Heresy Corrupts the Scriptures in Order to Disprove the Truth.
This peerless Faith, dearly-beloved, this Truth proclaimed throughout all ages, is opposed by the devilish blasphemies of the Manichaeans: who to murder the souls of the deceived have woven a deadly tissue of wicked doctrine out of impious and forged lies, and over the ruins of their mad opinions men have fallen headlong to such depths as to imagine a Christ with a fictitious body, who presented nothing solid, nothing real to the eyes and touch of men8 , but displayed an empty shape of fancy-flesh. For they wish it to be thought unworthy of belief that God the Son of God placed Himself within a woman’s body and subjected His majesty to such a degradation as to be joined to our fleshly nature and be born in the true body of human substance although this is entirely the outcome of His power, not of His ill-treatment, and it is His glorious condescension, not His being polluted that should be believed in. For if yonder visible light is not marred by any of the uncleannesses with which it is encompassed, and the brightness of the sun’s rays, which is doubtless a material creature, is not contaminated by any of the dirty or muddy places to which it penetrates, is there anything whatever its quality which could pollute the essence of that eternal and immaterial Light? seeing that by allying Himself to that creature which He had made after His own image He furnished it with purification and received no stain, and healed the wounds of its weakness without suffering loss of power. And because this great and unspeakable mystery of divine Godliness was announced by all the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures, those opponents of the Truth of which we speak have rejected the law that was given through Moses and the divinely inspired utterances9 of the prophets, and have tampered with the very pages of the gospels and apostles, by removing or inserting certain things: forging for themselves under the Apostles’ names and under the words of the Saviour Himself many volumes of falsehood, whereby to fortify their lying errors and instil deadly poison into the minds of those to be deceived. For they saw that everything contradicted and made against them and that not only by the New but also by the Old Testament their blasphemous and treacherous folly was confuted. And yet persisting in their mad lies they cease not to disturb the Church of God with their deceits, persuading those miserable creatures whom they can ensnare to deny that man’s nature was truly taken by the Lord Jesus Christ; to deny that He was truly crucified for the world’s salvation: to deny that from His side wounded by the spear flowed the blood of Redemption and the water of baptism10 : to deny that He was buried and raised again the third day: to deny that in sight of the disciples He was lifted above all the heights of the skies to take His seat on the right hand of the Father; and in order that when all the truth of the Apostles’ Creed was destroyed, there may be nothing to frighten the wicked or inspire the saints with hope, to deny that the living and the dead must be judged by Christ; so that those whom they have robbed of the power of these great mysteries may learn to worship Christ in the sun and moon, and under the name of the Holy Spirit to adore Manichaeus himself, the inventor of all these blasphemies.
V. Avoid All Dealings with the Heretics, But Intercede with God For Them.
To confirm your hearts therefore, dearly-beloved, in the Faith and Truth, let to-day’s festival help you all, and let the catholic confession be fortified by the testimony of the manifestation of the Saviour’s infancy, while we anathematize the blasphemy of those who deny the flesh of our nature in Christ: about which the blessed Apostle John has forewarned us in no doubtful utterance, saying, “every spirit which confesses Christ Jesus to have come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit which destroys Jesus is not of God, and this is Antichrist11 .” Consequently let no Christian have aught in common with men of this kind, let him have no alliance or intercourse with such. Let it advantage the whole Church that many of them in the mercy of God have been discovered, and that their own confession has disclosed how sacrilegious their lives were. Let no one be deceived by their discriminations between food and food, by their soiled raiment, by their pale faces. Fasts are not holy which proceed not on the principle of abstinence but with deceitful de sign. Let this be the end of their harming the unwary, and deluding the ignorant; henceforth no one’s fall shall be excusable: no longer must he be held simple but extremely worthless and perverse who hereafter shall be found entangled in detestable error. A practice countenanced by the Church and Divinely instituted, not only do we not forbid, we even incite you to, that you should supplicate the Lord even for such: since we also with tears and mourning feel pity for the ruins of cheated souls, carrying out the Apostles’ example of loving-kindness12 , so as to be weak with those that are weak and to “weep with those that weep13 .” For we hope that God’s mercy can be won by the many tears and due amendment of the fallen: because so long as life remains in the body no man’s restoration must be despaired of, but the reform of all desired with the Lord’s help, “who raiseth up them that are crushed, looseth them that are chained, giveth light to the blind14 :” to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Nb 24,17: cf. Serm. XXXI. chap 2, above.
2 Mi 5,2,
3 Mt 2,10-11.
4 Rm 1,3,
5 Ga 4.
6 Mt 5,17.
7 Alienoe opis indignum).
8 Whatever may be the correct reading here, actionibus with the better mss. or tactibus the conjecture of Quesnel from the reading of some mss. actibus, the meaning must be such as is given in the translation.
9 Oracularepresenting the lovgia of the New Testament (viz. Ac 7,38 Rm 3,2, &c)..
10 Cf. Ep. 28,(Tome) 5, aperto per militis lanceam latere crucifixi intelligat unde sanguis et aqua fluxerit ut ecclesia Dei et lavacro rigaretur et poculo, and almost immediately afterwards, where he interprets the spirit, water and blood of 1 1Jn 5,8, as spiritus sanctificationis et sanguis redemptionis et aqua baptismatis.
11 1Jn 4,2-3: see Letter XXVIII. (Tome) 5, n. 7, on the various reading).
12 Exequentes apostolicoe pietatis exemplum.
13 2Co 11,29 Rm 12,15,
14 Ps 146,7-8.
Leo the Great: sermons 2028