Leo the Great: sermons 2054
I. The Two-Fold Nature of Christ Set Forth.
Among all the works of God’s mercy, dearly-beloved, which from the beginning have been bestowed upon men’s salvation, none is more wondrous, and none more sublime, than that Christ was crucified for the world. For to this mystery all the mysteries of the ages preceding led up, and every variation which the will of God ordained in sacrifices, in prophetic signs, and in the observances of the Law, foretold that this was fixed, and promised its fulfilment: so that now types and figures are at an end, and we find our profit in believing that accomplished which before we found our profit in looking forward to. In all things, therefore, dearly-beloved, which pertain to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Catholic Faith maintains and demands that we acknowledge the two Natures to have met in our Redeemer, and while their properties remained, such a union of both Natures to have been effected that, from the thee when, as the cause of mankind required, in the blessed Virgin’s womb, “the Word became flesh,” we may not think of Him asGod without that which is man, nor as man without that which is God. Each Nature does indeed express its real existence by actions that distinguish it, but neither separatesitself from connexion with the other. Nothing is wanting there on either side; in the majesty the humility is complete, in the humility themajesty is complete: and the unity does not introduce confusion, nor does the distinctiveness destroy the unity. The one is passible,the other inviolable; and yet the degradation belongs to the same Person, as does the glory. He is present at once in weakness and in power; at once capable of death and the vanquisher of it. Therefore, God took on Him whole Manhood, and so blended the two Natures together by means of His mercy and power, that each Nature was present in the other, and neither passed out of its own properties into the other.
II. The Two Natures Acted Conjointly, and the Human Sufferings Were Not Compulsory, But in Accordance with the Divine Will.
But because the design of that mystery which was ordained for our restoration before the eternal ages, was not to be carried out without human weakness and without Divine power1 , both “form” does that which is proper to it in common with the other, the Word, that is, performing that which is the Word’s and the flesh that which is of the flesh. One of them gleams bright with miracles, the other i succumbs to injuries. The one departs not from equality with the Father’s glory, the other leaves not the nature of our race. But nevertheless even His very endurance of sufferings does not so far expose Him to a participation in our humility as to separate Him from the power of the Godhead. All the mockery and insults, all the persecution and pain which the madness of the wicked inflicted on the Lord, was not endured of necessity, but undertaken of free-will: “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which had perished2 :” and He used the wickedness of His persecutors for the redemption of all men in such a way that in the mystery of His Death and Resurrection even His murderers could have been saved, if they had believed.
III Judas’ Infamy Has Never Been Exceeded.
And hence, Judas, thou art proved more criminal and unhappier than all; for when repentance should have called thee back to the Lord, despair dragged thee to the halter. Thou shouldest have awaited the completion of thy crime, and have put off thy ghastly death by hanging, until Christ’s Blood was shed for all sinners. And among the many miracles and gifts of the Lords which might have aroused thy conscience, those holy mysteries, at least, might have rescued thee from thy headlong fall, which at the Paschal supper thou hadst received, being even then detected in thy treachery by the sign of Divine knowledge. Why dost thou distrust the goodness of Him, Who did not repel thee from the communion of His body and blood, Who did not deny thee the kiss of peace when thou camest with crowds and a band of armed men to seize Him. But O man that nothing could convert, O “spirit going and not returning3 ,” thou didst follow thy heart’s rage, and, the devil standing at thy right hand, didst turn the wickedness, which thou hadst prepared against the life of all the saints, to thine own destruction, so that, because thy crime had exceeded all measure of punishment, thy wickedness might make thee thine own judge, thy punishment allow thee to be thine own hangman.
IV. Christ Voluntarily Bartered His Glory for Our Weakness.
When, therefore, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself4 ,” and the Creator Himself was wearing the creature which was to be restored to the image of its Creator; and after the Divinely-miraculous works had been performed, the performance of which the spirit of prophecy had once predicted, “then shall the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf shall hear; then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be plain5 ;” Jesus knowing that the thee was now come for the fulfilment of His glorious Passion, said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death6 ;” and again, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me7 .” And these words, expressing a certain fear, show His desire to heal the affection of our weakness by sharing them, and to check our fear of enduring pain by undergoing it. In our Nature, therefore, the Lord trembled with our fear, that He might fully clothe our weakness and our frailty with the completeness of His own strength. For He had come into this world a rich and merciful Merchant from the skies, and by a wondrous exchange had entered into a bargain of salvation with us, receiving ours and giving His, honour for insults, salvation for pain, life for death: and He Whom more than 12,000 of the angel-hosts might have served8 for the annihilation of His persecutors, preferred to entertain our fears, rather than employ His own power.
V. S. Peter Was the First To’ Benefit by His Master’s Humiliation.
And how much this humiliation conferred upon all the faithful, the most blessed Apostle Peter was the first to prove, who, after the fierce blast of threatening cruelty had dismayed him, quickly changed, and was restored to vigour, finding remedy from the great Pattern, so that the suddenly-shaken member returned to the firmness of the Head. For the bond-servant could not be “greater than the Lord, nor the disciple greater than the master9 ,” and he could not have vanquished the trembling of human frailty had not the Vanquisher of Death first feared. The Lord, therefore, “looked back upon Peter10 ,” and amid the calumnies of priests, the falsehoods of witnesses, the injuries of those that scourged and spat upon Him, met His dismayed disciple with those eyes wherewith He had foreseen his dismay: and the gaze of the Truth entered into him, on whose heart correction must be wrought, as if the Lord’s voice were making itself heard there, and saying, Whither goest thou, Peter? why retirest thou upon thyself? turn thou to Me, put thy trust in Me, follow Me: this is the thee of My Passion, the hour of thy suffering is not yet come. Why dost thou fear what thou, too, shalt overcome?Let not the weakness, in which I share, confound thee. I was fearful for thee; do thou be confident of Me.
VI. The Mad Counsel of the Jews Was Turned to Their Own Destruction.
“And when morning was come all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death11 .” This morning, O ye Jews, was for you not the rising, but the setting of the sun, nor did the wonted daylight visit your eyes, but a night of blackest darkness brooded on your naughty hearts. This morning overthrew for you the temple and its altars, did away with the Law and the Prophets, destroyed the Kingdom and the priesthood, turned all your feasts into eternal mourning. For ye resolved on a mad and bloody counsel, ye “fat bulls,” ye “many oxen,” ye “roaring” wild beasts, ye rabid “dogs12 ,” to give up to death the Author of life and the Lord of glory; and, as if the enormity of your fury could be palliated by employing the verdict of him, who ruled your province, you lead Jesus bound to Pilate’s judgment, that the terror-stricken judge being overcome by your persistent shouts, you might choose a man that was a murderer for pardon, and demand the crucifixion of the Saviour of the world. After this condemnation of Christ, brought about more by the cowardice than the power of Pilate, who with washed hands but polluted mouth sent Jesus to the cross with the very lips that had pronounced Him innocent, the licence of the people, obedient to the looks of the priests, heaped many insults on the Lord, and the frenzied mob wreaked its rage on Him, Who meekly and voluntarily endured it all. But because, dearly-beloved, the whole story is too long to go through to-day, let us put off the rest till Wednesday, when the reading of the Lord’s Passion will be repeated13 . For the Lord will grant to your prayers, that of His own free gift we may fulfil our promise: through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.
1 This passage from “both form” down to “race” is repeated almost word for word in Lett. XXVII. (The Tome). chap. 4.
2 Lc 19,10.
3 Ps 78,39,
4 2Co 5,19,
5 Is 35,5-6.
6 Mt 26,38-39.
7 Mt 26,38-39.
8 Cf. Mt 26,53. The whole of this wonderfully powerful passage.
9 Cf. Mt 10,24and below, Lc 22,61.
10 Cf. Mt 10,24 and below, Lc 22,61.
11 Mt 27,1.
12 Cf. Ps 22,12-13 Ps 22,16.
13 Leo seems here to speak as if the story of the Passion from the Gospels in his time was read only on the Sunday and Wednesday in Holy Week: various uses prevailed, for which cf. Bingham’s Antiq. Bk. 14,chap. 3,§ 3.
I. The Difference Between the Penitence and Blasphemy of the Two Robbers is a Type of the Human Race.
That which we owe to your expectations, dearly-beloved, must be paid through the Lord’s bountiful answer to your prayers that He Who has made you eager in the demanding would make us fit for the performing.
In speaking but lately of the Lord’s Passion we reached the point in the Gospel story, where Pilate is said to have yielded to the Jews’ wicked shouts that Jesus should be crucified. And so when all things had been accomplished, which the Godhead veiled in frail flesh1 permitted, Jesus Christ the Son of God was fixed to the cross which He had also been carrying, two robbers being similarly crucified, one on His right hand, and the other on the left: so that even in the incidentsof the cross might be displayed that difference which in His judgment must be made in the case of all men; for the believing robber’s faith was a type of those who are to be saved, and the blasphemer’s wickedness prefigured those who are to be damned. Christ’s Passion, therefore, contains the mystery of our salvation, and of the instrument which the iniquity of the Jews prepared for His punishment, the Redeemer’s power has made for us the stepping-stone to glory2 : and that Passion the Lord Jesus so underwent for the salvation of all men that, while hanging there nailed to the wood, He entreated the Father’s mercy for His murderers, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know’ not what they do3 .”
II. The Chief Priests Showed Utter Ignorance of Scripture in Their Taunts.
But the chief priests, for whom the Saviour sought forgiveness, rendered the torture of the cross yet worse by the barbs of railery; and at Him, on Whom they could vent no more fury with their hands, they hurled the weapons of their tongues, saying, “He saved others; Himself he cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we believe Him4 .” From what spring of error, from what pool of hatred, O ye Jews, do ye drink such poisonous blasphemies? What master informed you, what teaching convinced you that you ought to believe Him to be King of Israel and Son Of God, who should either not allow Himself to be crucified, or should shake Himself free from the binding nails. The mysteries of the Law, the sacred observances of the Passover, the mouths of the Prophets never told you this: whereas you did find truly and oft-times written that which applies to your abominable wicked-doing and to the Lord’s voluntary suffering. For He Himself says by Isaiah, “I gave My back to the scourges, My cheeks to the palms of the hand, I turned not My face from the shame of spitting5 .” He Himself says by David, “They gave Me gall for My food, and in My thirst they supplied Me with vinegar6 .” and again, “Many dogs came about Me, the council of evil-doers beset Me. They pierced My hands and My feet, they counted all My bones. But they themselves watched and gazed on Me, they parted My raiment among them, and for My robe they cast lots7 .” And lest the course of your own evil doings should seem to have been foretold, and no power in the Crucified predicted, ye read not, indeed, that the Lord descended from the cross, but ye did read, “The Lord reigned on the tree8 .”
III. The Triumph of the Cross is Immediate and Effective.
The Cross of Christ, therefore, symbolizes9 the true altar of prophecy, on which the oblation of man’s nature should be celebrated by means of a salvation-bringing Victim. There the blood of the spotless Lamb blotted out the consequences of the ancient trespass: there the whole tyranny of the devil’s hatred was crushed, and humiliation triumphed gloriously over the lifting up of pride: for so swift was the effect of Faith that of the robbers crucified with Christ, the one who believed in Christ as the Son of God entered paradise justified. Who can unfold the mystery of so great a boon? who can state the power of so wondrous a change? In a moment of thee the guilt of long evil-doing is done away; clinging to the cross, amid the cruel tortures of his struggling soul, he passes over to Christ; and to him, on whom his own wickedness had brought punishment, Christ’s grace now gives a crown.
IV. When the Last Act in the Tragedy Was Over How Must the Jews Have Felt?
And then, having now tasted the vinegar, the produce of that vineyard which had degenerated in spite of its Divine Planter, and had turned to the sourness of a foreign vine10 , the Lord says, “it is finished;” that is, the Scriptures are fulfilled: there is no more for Me to abide from the fury of the raging people: I have endured all that I foretold I should suffer. The mysteries of weakness are completed, let the proofs of power be produced. And so He bowed the head and yielded up His Spirit and gave that Body, Which should be raised again on the third day, the rest of peaceful slumber. And when the Author of Life was undergoing this mysterious phase, and at so great a condescension of God’s Majesty, the foundations of the whole world were shaken, when all creation condemned their wicked crime by its upheaval, and the very elements of the world delivered a plain verdict against the criminals, what thoughts, what heart-searchings had ye, O Jews, when the judgment of the universe went against you, and your wickedness could not be recalled, the crime having been done? what confusion covered you? what torment seized your hearts?
V. Chastity, and Charity are the Two Things Most Needful in Preparing for Easter Communion.
Seeing therefore, dearly-beloved, that God’s Mercy is so great, that He has deigned to justify. by faith many even from among such a nation, and had adopted into the company of the patriarchs and into the number of the chosen people us who were once perishing in the deep darkness of our old ignorance, let us mount to the summit of our hopes not sluggishly nor in sloth; but prudently and faithfully reflecting from what captivity and from how miserable a bondage, with what ransom we were purchased, by how strong an arm led out, let us glorify God in our body: that we may show Him dwelling in us, even by the uprightness of our manner of life: And because no virtues are worthier or more excellent than merciful loving-kindness and unblemished chastity, let us more especially equip ourselves with these weapons, so that, raised from the earth, as it were on the two wings of active charity and shining purity, we may win a place in heaven. And whosoever, aided by God’s grace, is filled with this desire and glories not in himself, but in the Lord, over his progress, pays due honour to the Easter mystery. His threshold the angel of destruction does not cross, for it is marked with the Lamb’s blood and the sign of the cross11 . He fears not the plagues of Egypt, and leaves his foes overwhelmed by the same waters by which he himself was saved. And so, dearly-beloved, with minds and bodies purified let us embrace the wondrous mystery of our salvation, and, cleansed from all “the leaven of our old wickedness, let us keep12 ” the Lord’s Passover with due observance: so that, the Holy Spirit guiding us, we may be “separated” by no temptations “from the love of Christ13 ,” Who bringing peace by His blood to all things, has returned to the loftiness of the Father’s glory, and yet not forsaken the lowliness of those who serve Him to Whom is the honour and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Divinitas carnis velamine temperata. It is not easy to render the exact force of this phrase in English without a danger of being misunderstood.
2 Gradum nobis fecit ad gloriam. Quesnel’s reading gaudium, though well supported by the mss., is, I think with the Ball., unsatisfactory, cf. Serm. LI. chap. 7, per crucis supplicium gradus vobis ascensionis parat ad regnum.
3 Lc 23,34.
4 Mt 27,42.
5 Is 50,6,
6 Ps 69,21 Ps 22,16-17
7 Ps 69,21 Ps 22,16-17
8 Ps 96,10. “An ancient gloss, but without authority from existing mss. or ancient versions, viz., ajpo; tou` xuvlou, was received by S. Justin Martyr and others as a genuine portion of the text.” Speakers Commentary in loco. Compare also the old Latin hymn (“The Royal Banners,” H.A.M. 96, verse 3).
9 Sacramentum habet).
10 The reference is perhaps to Is 5,1-5.
11 Cf. Ex 12,23; and below, 1Co 5,8, and Rm 8,35.
12 Cf. Ex 12,23; and below, 1Co 5,8, and Rm 8,35.
13 Cf. Ex 12,23; and below, 1Co 5,8, and Rm 8,35.
I. The Reason of Christ Suffering at the Paschal Feast.
I know indeed, dearly-beloved, that the Easter festival partakes of so sublime a mystery as to surpass not only the slender perceptions of my humility, but even the powers of great intellects. But I must not consider the greatness of the Divine work in such a way as to distrust or to feel ashamed of the service which I owe; for we may not hold our peace upon the mystery of man’s salvation, even if it cannot be explained. But, your prayers aiding us, we believe God’s Grace will be granted, to sprinkle the barrenness of our heart with the dew of His inspira- tion: that by the pastor’s mouth things may be proclaimed which are useful to the ears of his holy flock. For when the Lord, the Giver of all good things, says: “open thy mouth, and I will fill it1 ,” we dare likewise to reply in the prophet’s words: “Lord, Thou shale open my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth Thy praise2 .” Therefore beginning, dearly-beloved, to handle once more the Gospel-story of the Lord’s Passion, we understand it was part of the Divine plan that the profane chiefs of the Jews and the unholy priests, who had often sought occasion of venting their rage on Christ, should receive the power of exercising their fury at no other time than the Paschal festival. For the things which had long been promised under mysterious figures had to be fulfilled in all clearness; for instance, the True Sheep had to supersede the sheep which was its antitype, and the One Sacrifice to bring to an end the multitude of different sacrifices. For all those things which had been divinely ordained through Moses about the sacrifice of the lamb had prophesied of Christ and truly announced the slaying of Christ. In order, therefore, that the shadows should yield to the substance and types cease in the presence of the Reality, the ancient observance is removed by a new Sacrament, victim passes into Victim, blood is wiped away by Blood, and the law-ordained Feast is fulfilled by being changed.
II. The Leading Jews Broke Their Own Law, as Well as Failed to Apprehend the New Dispensation in Destroying Christ.
And hence, when the chief priests gathered the scribes and elders of the people together to their council, and the minds of all the priests were occupied with the purpose of doing wrong to Jesus, the teachers of the law put themselves without the law, and by their own voluntary failure in duty abolished their ancestral ceremonies. For when the Paschal feast began, those who ought to have adorned the temple, cleansed the vessels, provided the victims, and employed a holier zeal in the purifications that the law enjoined, seized with the fury of traitorous hate, give themselves upto one work, and with uniform cruelty conspire for one crime, though they were doomed togain nothing by the punishment of innocence and the condemnation of righteousness, except the failure to apprehend the new mysteries and the violation of the old. The chiefs, therefore, in providing against a tumult arising on a holy day3 , showed zeal not for the festival, but for a heinous crime; and their anxiety served not the cause of religion, but their own incrimination. For these careful pontiffs and anxious priests feared the occurrence of seditious riots on the principal feast-day, not lest the people should do wrong, but lest Christ should escape.
III. Jesus Instituting the Blessed Sacrament Showed Mercy to Thetraitor Judas to the Last.
But Jesus, sure of His purpose and undaunted in carrying out His Father’s will, fulfilled the New Testament and founded a new Passover. For while the disciples were lying down with Him at the mystic Supper, and when discussion was proceeding in the hall of Caiaphas how Christ might be put to death, He, ordaining the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, was teaching them what kind of Victim must be offered up to God, and not even from this mystery was the betrayer kept away, in order to show that he was exasperated by no personal wrong, but had determined beforehand of his own free-will upon his treachery. For he was his own source of ruin and cause of perfidy, following the guidance of the devil and refusing to have Christ as director. And so when the Lord said, “Verily I say to you that one of you is about to betray Me,” He showed that His betrayer’s conscience was well known to Him, not confounding the traitor by harsh or open rebukes, but meeting him with mild and silent warnings that he who had never been sent astray by rejection, might the easier be set right by repentance. Why, unhappy Judas, dose thou not make use of so great long-suffering? Behold, the Lord spares thy wicked attempts; Christ betrays thee to none save thyself. Neither thy name nor thy person is discovered, but only the secrets of thy heart are touched by the word of truth and mercy. The honour of the apostolic rank is not denied thee, nor yet a share in the Sacraments. Return to thy right mind; lay aside thy madness and be wise. Mercy invites thee, Salvation knocks at the door, Life recalls thee to life. Lo, thy stainless and guiltless fellow-disciples shudder at the hint of thy crime, and all tremble for themselves till the author of the treachery is declared. For they are saddened not by the accusations of conscience, but by the uncertainty of man’s changeableness; fearing lest what each knew against himself be less true than what the Truth Himself foresaw. But thou abusest the Lord’s patience in this panic of the saints, and believest that thy bold front hides thee. Thou addest impudence to guilt, and art not frightened by so clear a test And when the others refrain from the food in which the Lord had set His judgment, thou dost not withdraw thy band from the dish, because thy mind is not turned aside from the crime.
IV. Various Incidents of the Passion .further Explained and the Reality of Christ’s Sufferings Asserted.
And thus it followed, dearly-beloved, that as John the Evangelist has narrated, when the Lord offered the bread which He had dipped to His betrayer, more clearly to point him out, the devil entirely seized Judas, and now, by his veritable act of wickedness, took possession of one whom he had already bound down by his evil designs.For only in body was he lying there with those at meat: in mind he was arming the hatred of the priests, the falseness of the witnesses, and the fury of the ignorant mob, At last the Lord, seeing on what a gross crime bent says, “What thou doest do Judas was quickly4 .” This is the voice not of command but of permission, and not of fear but of readiness: He, that has power over all times, shows that He puts no hindrance in the way of the traitor, and carries out the Father’s will for the redemption of the world in such a way as neither to promote nor to fear the crime which His persecutors were preparing. When Judas, therefore, at the devil’s persuasion, departed from Christ, and cut himself off from the unityof the Apostolic body, the Lord, without bring disturbed by any fear, but anxious only for the salvation of those He came to redeem, spent all the time that was free from His persecutors’ attack on mystic conversation and holy teaching, as is declared in St. John’s gospel: raising His eyes to heaven and beseeching the Father for the whole Church that all whom the Father had and would give the Son might become one and remain undivided to the Redeemer’s glory, and adding lastly that prayer in which He says, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me5 .” Wherein it is not to be thought that the Lord Jesus wished to escape the Passion and the Death, the sacraments of which He had already committed to His disciples’ keeping, seeing that He Himself forbids Peter, when he was burning with devoted faith and love, to use the sword, saying, “The cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it6 ?” and seeing that that is certain which the Lord also says, according to John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life7 ;” as also what the Apostle Paul says, “Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, a victim to God for a sweet-smelling savour8 .” For the saving of all through the Cross of Christ was the common will and the common plan of the Father and the Son; nor could that by any means be disturbed which before eternal ages had been mercifully determined and unchangeably fore-ordained. Therefore in assuming true and entire manhood He took the true sensations of the body and the true feelings of the mind. And it does not follow because everything in Him was full of sacraments, full of miracles, that therefore He either shed false tears or took food from pretended hunger or reigned slumber. It was in our humility that He was despised, with our grief that He was saddened,with our pain that He was racked on thecross. For His compassion underwent the sufferings of our mortality with the purpose of healing them, and His power encountered them with the purpose of conquering them. And this Isaiah has most plainly prophesied, saying, “He carries our sins and is pained for us, and we thought Him to be in pain and in stripes and in vexation. But He was woundedfor our sins, and was stricken for our offences, and with His braises we are healed9 .”
V. The Resignation of Christ is an Undying Lesson to the Church
And so, dearly beloved, when the Son of God says, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me10 ,” He uses the outcry of our nature, and pleads the cause of human frailty and trembling: that our patience may be strengthened and our fears driven away in the things which we have to bear. At length, ceasing even to ask this now that He had in a measure palliated our weak fears, though it is not expedient for us to retain them, He passes into another mood, and says, “Nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou;” and again, “If this cup can not pass from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done11 .” These words of the Head are the salvation of the whole Body: these words have instructed all the faithful, kindled the zeal of all the confessors, crowned all the martyrs. For who could overcome the world’s hatred, the blasts of temptations, the terr onsf persecutors, had not Christ, in the name of all and for all, said, to the Father, “Thy will be done?” Then let the words be learnt by all the Church’s sons who have been purchased at so great a price, so freely justified: and when the shock of some violent temptation has fallen on them, let them use the aid of this potent prayer, that they may conquer their fear and trembling, and learn to suffer patiently. From this point, dearly-beloved, our sermon must pass to the consideration of the details of the Lord’s Passion, and lest we should burden you with prolixity, we will divide our common task, and put off the rest12 till the fourth day of the week). God’s grace will be vouchsafed to you if you pray Him to give me the power of carrying out my duty: through our Lord Jesus Christ, &c.
1 Ps 81,10.
2 Ps 51,15,
3 Cf. Mt 26,5.
4 Jn 13,27.
5 Mt 26,39.
6 Jn 18,11.
7 Jn 3,16.
8 Ep 5,2,
9 Is 53,4-5. Leo’s version is a very literal translation of the LXX., which varies a good deal from the Vulgate and the A.V. ; he omits however, the clause, “the chastisement of our peace,” &c., which is common to all three.
10 Mt 26,39 Mt 26,42.
11 Mt 26,39 Mt 26,42.
12 This is Sermon LIX. which follows in extenso. See Serm. LIV., chap. 6,n. 2.
I. Christ’s Arrest Fulfils His Own Eternal Purpose.
Having discoursed, dearly beloved, in our last sermon, on the events which preceded the Lord’s arrest, it now remains, by the help of God’s grace, to discuss, as we promised, the details of the Passion itself. When the Lord had made it clear by the words of His sacred prayer that the Divine and the Human Nature was most truly and fully present in Him, showing that the unwillingness to suffer proceeded from the one, and from the other the determination to suffer by the expulsion of all frail fears and the strengthening of His lofty power, then did He return to His eternal purpose, and “in the form of a” sinless “slave” encounter the devil who was savagely attacking Him by the hands of the Jews: that He in Whom alone was all men’s nature without fault, might undertake the cause of all. The sins of darkness, therefore, assailed the true Light, and, for all their torches and lanterns1 , could not escape the night of their own unbelief, because they did not recognize the Fount of Light. They arrest Him, and He is ready to be seized; they lead Him away, and He is willing to be led; for though, if He had willed to resist, their wicked hands could have done Him no harm, yet thereby the world’s redemption would have been impeded, and He, who was to die for all men’s salvation, would have saved none at all.
II. How Great Was Pilate’s Crime in Allowing Himself to Be Led Astray & the Jews.
Accordingly, permitting the infliction on Himself of all that the people’s fury inflamed by the priests dared do, He is brought to Annas, father-in-law to Caiaphas, and thence Annas passes Him on to Caiaphas: and after the calumniators’ mad accusations, after the lying falsehoods of suborned witnesses, He is transferred to Pilate’s hearing by the delegation of the two high-priests, who in neglecting the Divine law, and exclaiming that they had “no king but Caesar,” as if they were devoted to the Roman laws, and had left the whole judgment in the hands of the governor, really sought for an accomplisher of their cruelty rather than an umpire of the case. For they gave up Jesus, bound in hard bonds, bruised by many buffets and blows, spat upon, already condemned by their shouts: so that amidst so many signs of their own verdict Pilate might not dare to acquit One Whom all desired to perish. In fact, the very inquiry shows both that he found in the Accused no fault and that in his judgment he did not adhere to his purpose: for as judge he condemns One Whom he pronounces guiltless, invoking on the unrighteous people the blood of the Righteous Man with Whom he felt by his own conviction, and knew from his wife’s dream2 , he must have nothing to do. That stained soul is not cleansed by the washing of hands, there is no expiation in water-besprinkled fingers for the crime abetted by that wicked mind. Pilate’s fault is indeed, less than the Jews’ crime; for it was they that terrified him with Caesar’s name, chode him with hateful words, and drove him to perpetrate his wickedness. But he also did not escape incrimination for playing into the hands of those that made the uproar, for abandoning his own judgment, and for acquiescing in the charges of others.
III. Yet the Jews’ Guilt Was Infinitely Greater.
In bowing, therefore, dearly-beloved, to the madness of the impacable people, in permitting Jesus to be dishonoured by much mocking, and harassed with excessive insults, and in displaying Him to the eyes of His persecutors lacerated with scourges, crowned with thorns, and clothed in a robe of scorn, Pilate doubtless thought to appease the enemies’ minds, so that when they had glutted their cruel hate, they might cease further to persecute One Whom they beheld subjected to such a variety of afflictions. But their wrath was still in full blaze, and they cried out to him to release Barabbas and thus, Jesus bear the penalty of the cross, and thus, when with consenting murmur the crowd said “His blood be on us and on our sons3 ,” those wicked folk gained, to their own damnation what they had persistently demanded, “whose teeth,” as the prophet bore witness, “were arms and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword4 .” For in vain did they keep their own hands from crucifying the Lord of glory when they had hurled at Him the tongue’s deadly darts and the poisoned weapons of words. On you, on you, false Jews and unholy leaders of the people, falls the full weight of that crime: and although the enormity of the guilt involves the governor and the soldiers also, yet you are the primary and chief offenders. And in Christ’s condemnation, whatsoever wrong was done either by Pilate’s judgment or by the cohorts carrying out of his commands, makes you only the more deserving of the hatred of mankind, because the impulse of your fury would not let even those be free from guilt who were displeased at your unrighteous acts.
IV. Christ Bearing His Own Cross is an Eternal Lesson to the Church.
And so the Lord was handed over to their savage wishes, and in mockery of His kingly state, ordered to be the bearer of His own instrument of death, that what Isaiah the prophet foresaw might be fulfilled, saying, “Behold a Child is born, and a Son is given to us whose government is upon His shoulders5 .” When, therefore, the Lord carried the wood of the cross which should turn for Him into the sceptre of power, it was indeed in the eyes of the wicked a mighty mockery, but to the faithful a mighty mystery was set forth, seeing that He, the glorious vanquisher of the Devil, and the strong defeater of the powers that were against Him, was carrying in noble sort the trophy of His triumph, and on the shoulders of His unconquered patience bore into all realms the adorable sign of salvation: as if even then to confirm all His followers by this mere symbol of His work, and say, “He that taketh not his cross and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me6 .”
V. The Transference of the Cross from the Lord To Simon of Cyrene Signifies the Participation of the Gentiles in His Sufferings.
But as the multitudes went with Jesus to the place of punishment, a certain Simon of Cyrene was found on whom to lay the wood of the cross instead of the Lord; that even by this act might be pre-signified the Gentiles’ faith, to whom the cross of Christ was to be not shame but glory. It was not accidental, therefore, but symbolical and mystical, that while the Jews were raging against Christ, a foreigner was found to share His sufferings, as the Apostle says, “if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him7 ”; so that no Hebrew nor Israelite, but a stranger, was substituted for the Saviour in His most holy degradation. For by this transference the propitiation of the spotless Lamb and the fulfilment of all mysteries passed from the circumcision to the uncircumcision, from the sons according to the flesh to the sons according to the spirit: since as the Apostle says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us8 ,” Who offering Himself to the Father a new and true sacrifice of reconciliation, was crucified not in the temple, whose worship was now at an end, and not within the confines of the city which for its sin was doomed to be destroyed, but outside, “without the camp9 ,” that, on the cessation of the old symbolic victims, a new Victim might be placed on a new altar, and the cross of Christ might be the altar not of the temple but of the world.
VI. We are to See Not Only the Crass But the Meaning of It.
Accordingly, dearly-beloved, Christ being lifted up upon the cross, let the eyes of your mind not dwell only on that sight which those wicked sinners saw, to whom it was said by the mouth of Moses, “And thy life shall be hanging before thine eyes, and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt not be assured of thy life10 .” For in the crucified Lord they could think of nothing but their wicked deed, having not the fear, by which true faith is justified, but that by which an evil conscience is racked. But let our understandings, illumined by the Spirit of Truth, foster with pure and free heart the glory of the cross which irradiates heaven and earth, and see with the inner sight what the Lord meant when He spoke of His coming Passion: “The hour is come that the Son of man may be glorified11 :” and below He says, “Now is My spirit troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour, but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Thy Son.” And when the Father’s voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again,” Jesus in reply said to those that stood by, “This voice came not for Me but for you. Now is the world’s judgment, now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things unto Me12 .”
VII. The Power of the Crass is Universally Attractive.
O wondrous power of the Cross! O in effable glory of the Passion, in which is contained the Lord’s tribunal, the world’s judgment, and the power of the Crucified! For thou didst draw all things unto Thee, Lord and when Thou hadst stretched out Thy hands all the day, long to an unbelieving people that gainsaid Thee13 , the whole world at last was brought to confess Thy majesty. Thou didst draw all things unto Thee, Lord, when all the elements combined to pronounce judgment in execration of the Jews’ crime, when the lights of heaven were darkened, and the day turned into night, and the earth also was shaken with unwonted shocks, and all creation refused to serve those wicked men. Thou didst draw all things unto Thee, Lord. for the veil of the temple was rent, and the Holy of Holies existed no more for those unworthy high-priests: so that type was turned into Truth, prophecy into Revelation law into Gospel. Thou didst draw all things unto Thee, Lord, so that what before was done in the one temple of the Jews in dark signs, was now to be celebrated everywhere by the piety of all the nations in full and open rite. For now there is a nobler rank of Levites, there are elders of greater dignity and priests of holier anointing: because Thy cross is the fount of all blessings, the source of all graces, and through it the believers receive strength for weakness, glory for shame, life for death. Now, too, the variety of fleshly sacrifices has ceased, and the one offering of Thy Body and Blood fulfils all those different victims: for Thou art the true “Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world14 ,” and in Thyself so accomplishest all mysteries, that as there is but one sacrifice instead of many victims, so there is but one kingdom instead of many nations.
VIII. We Must Live Not for Ourselves But for Christ, Who Died for Us.
Let us, then, dearly-beloved, confess what the blessed teacher of the nations, the Apostle Paul, confessed, saying, “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners15 .” For God’s mercy towards us is the more wonderful that Christ died not for the righteous nor for the holy, but for the unrighteous and wicked; and though the nature of the Godhead could not sustain the sting of death, yet at His birth He took from us that which He might offer for us. For of old He threatened our death with the power of His death, saying. by the mouth of Hosea the prophet, “O death, I will be thy death, and I will be thy destruction, O hell16 .” For by dying He underwent the laws of hell, but by rising again He broke them, and so destroyed the continuity of death as to make it temporal instead of eternal. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive17 .” And so, dearly-beloved, let that come to pass of which S. Paul speaks, “that they that live, should henceforth not live to themselves but to Him who died for all and rose again18 .” And because the old things have passed away and all things are become new, let none remain in his old carnal life, but let us all be renewed by daily progress and growth in piety. For however much a man be justified, yet so long as he remains in this life, he can always be more approved and better. And he that is not advancing is going back, and he that is gaining nothing is losing something. Let us run, then, with the steps of faith, by the works of mercy, in the love of righteousness, that keeping the day of our redemption spiritually, “not in the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth19 ,” we may deserve to be partakers of Christ’s resurrection, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.
1 The allusion doubtless is to the “lanterns and torches” mentioned by Jn 18,3.
2 Cf. Mt 27,19 Mt 27,25.
3 Cf. Mt 27,19 Mt 27,25.
4 Ps 7,4.
5 Is 9,6, interpretation is fanciful, but not without some support from the parallel phrase in Is 22,22,
6 Mt 10,38.
7 2Tm 2,12,
8 1Co 5,7,
9 He 13,12,
10 Dt 28,66,
11 Jn 12,23 Jn 12,27-28 Jn 12,30-32. The reading omni (all things) will not escape notice in 5,32).
12 Jn 12,23 Jn 12,27-28 Jn 12,30-32. The reading omni (all things) will not escape notice in 5,32).
13 Cf. Is 65,2.
14 Jn 1,29.
15 1Tm 1,15,
16 Os 13,14,
17 1Co 15,22,
18 2Co 5,15,
19 1Co 5,8,
Leo the Great: sermons 2054