Leo the Great: sermons 2090
I.we Must Always Be Seeking Pardon, Because We are Always Liable to Sin.
We proclaim the holy Fast of the Seventh Month, dearly-beloved, for the exercise of common devotions, confidently inciting you with fatherly exhortations to make Christian by your observance that which was formerly Jewish1 . For it is at all times suitable and in agreement with both the New and Old Testament, that the Divine Mercy should be sought with chastisement both of mind and body, because nothing is more effectual in prevailing with God than that a man should judge himself and never cease from asking pardon, knowing that he is never without fault For human nature has this flaw in itself, not planted there by the Creator but contracted by the transgressor2 , and transmitted to his posterity by the law of generation3 , so that from the corruptible body springs that which may corrupt the soul also. Hence although the inner man be now reborn in Christ and rescued from the bonds of captivity, it has unceasing conflicts with the flesh, and has to endure resistance in seeking to restrain vain desires. And in this strife such perfect victory is not easily obtained that even those habits which must be broken off do not still encumber us, and those vices which must be slain do not wound. However wisely and prudently the mind presides as judge over the outer senses, yet even amid the pains it takes to rule and the limits it imposes on the appetites of the flesh, the temptation is always too close at hand. For who so abstracts himself from pleasure or pain of body that his mind is not affected by that which delights or racks it from without? Joy and sorrow are inseparable from a man: no part of him is free from the kindlings of wrath, the over-powerings of delight, the castings down of affliction. And what turning away from sin can there be, where ruler and ruled alike are liable to the same passions? Rightly does the Lord exclaim that “the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak4 .”
II. Christ is Himself the Way, Which He Bids Us Tread.
And lest we should be led by despair into sheer inaction, He promises that the Divine power shall make those things possible which are to man impossible from his own lack of power: “for narrow and strait is the way which leadeth unto life5 ,” and no one couldset foot on it, no one could advance one step, unless Christ by making Himself the Way unbarred the difficulties of approach: and thus the Ordainer of the journey becomes the Means whereby we are able to accomplish it, because not only does He impose the labour, but also brings us to the haven of rest. In Him therefore we find our Model of patience, in Whom we have our Hope of life eternal; for “if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him6 ,” since, as the Apostle says, “he that saith he abideth in Christ ought himself also to walk as He walked7 .” Otherwise we make a vain presence and show, if we follow not His steps, Whose name we glory in, and assuredly they would not be irksome to us, but would free us from all dangers, if we loved nothing but what He commanded us to love.
III. The Love of God Contrasted with the Love of the World.
For there are two loves from which proceed all wishes, as different in quality as they are different in their sources. For the reasonable soul, which cannot exist without love, is the lover either of God or the world. In the love of God there is no excess, but in the love of the world all is hurtful. And therefore we must cling inseparably to eternal treasures, but things temporal we must use like passers-by, that as we are sojourners hastening to return to our own land, all the good things of this world which meet us may be as aids on the way, not snares to detain us. Therefore the blessed Apostle makes this proclamation, “the time is short: it remains that those who have wives be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they wept not; and those who rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and those who buy, as though they possessed not; and those that use this world, as though they used it not. For the fashion of this world passes away8 .” But as the world attracts us with its appearance, and abundance and variety, it is not easy to turn away from it unless in the beauty of things visible the Creator rather than the creature is loved; for, when He says, “thou shale love the Lord Shy God from all thy heart, and from all thy mind, and from all shy strength9 ,” He wishes us in noticing to loosen ourselves from the bonds of His love. And when He links the love of our neighbour also to this command, He enjoins on us the imitation of His own goodness, that we should love what He loves and do what He does. For although we be “God’s husbandry and God’s building,” and “neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase10 ,” yet in all things He requires our ministry and service, and wishes us to be the stewards of His gifts, that he who bears God’s image may do God’s will. For this reason, in the Lord’s prayer we say most devoutly, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done as in heaven, so also on earth.” For what else do we ask for in these words but that God may subdue those whom He has not yet subdued, and as in heaven He makes the angels ministers of His will, so also on earth He may make men? And in seeking this we love God, we love also our neighbour: and the love within us has but one Object, since we desire the bond-servant to serve and the Lord to have rule.
IV. The Love of God Is Fostered by Good Works.
This state of mind, therefore, beloved, from which earthly love is excluded, is strengthened by the habit of well-doing, because the conscience must needs be delighted at good deeds, and do willingly what it rejoices to have done. Thus it is that fasts are kept, alms freely given, justice maintained, frequent prayer resorted to, and the desires of individuals become the common wish of all. Labour fosters patience, gentleness extinguishes anger, loving-kindness treads down hatred, unclean desires are slain by holy, aspirations, avarice is east out by liberality, and burdensome wealth becomes the means of virtuous acts11 . But because the snares of the devil are not at rest even in such a state of things, most rightly at certain seasons of the year the renewal of our vigour is provided for: and now in particular, when one who is greedy of present good might boast himself over the clemency of the weather and the fertility of the land, and having stored his crops in great barns, might say to his soul, “thou hast much goods, eat and drink,” let him take heed to the rebuke of the Divine voice, and hear it saying, “Thou fool, this night they require thy soul of thee, and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be12 ?” This should be the wise man’s most anxious consideration, in order that, as the days of this life are short and its span uncertain, death may never come upon him unawares, and that knowing himself mortal he may meet his end fully prepared. And so, that this may avail both for the sanctification of out bodies and the renewal of our souls, on Wednesday and Friday let us fast, and on Saturday let us keep vigil with the most blessed Apostle Peter, whose prayers will help us to obtain fulfilment of our holy desires through Christ our Lord, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
1 The observances of the seventh month, especially of the Day of Atonement, will be found in Lv 23,26-44, and Numbers xxix.
2 Sc by Adam.
3 Generandi lege : others read generali lege, by he universal law.
4 Mt 26,41; for this passage, cf. Serm. XIX. chaps 1 and 2, and LXXVIII. chap. 2.
5 Mt 7,14,
6 2Tm 2,12,
7 1Jn 2,6.
8 1Co 7,29-31.
9 Mt 22,37.
10 1Co 3,9 and 7).
11 From this point the oldest Vatican lectionary (3836) givesa very different ending to the Sermon, which the Ball. consider asgenuine as the one given by the other mss., and translated above: in which case they are probably right in inferring that Leo used the Sermon more than once, and wrote these two endings for two different occasions.
12 Lc 12,19-20.
I. Abstinence Must Include Discipline of the Soul as Well Asof the Body.
There is nothing, dearly-beloved, in which the Divine Providence does not assist the devotions of the faithful. For the very elements of the world1 also minister to the exercise of mind and body in holiness, seeing that the distinctly varied revolution of days and months opens for us the different pages of the commands, and thus the seasons also in some sense speak to us of that which the sacred institutions enjoin. And hence, since the year’s course has brought back the seventh month to us, I feel certain that your minds are spiritually aroused to keep the solemn fast; since you have learnt by experience how well this preparation purifies both the outer and the inner parts of men, so that by abstaining from the lawful, resistance becomes easier to the unlawful. But do not limit your plan of abstinence, dearly-beloved, to the mortifying of the body, or to the lessening of food alone. For the greater advantages of this virtue belong to that chastity of the soul, which not only crushes the lusts of the flesh, but also despises the vanities of worldly wisdom, as the Apostle says, “take heed that no one deceive you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men2 .”
II. And in Particular We Must Abstain from Heresy, and that of Eutyches as Well as that of Nestorius.
We must restrain ourselves, therefore, from food, but much more must we fast from errors that the mind, given up to no carnal pleasure, may be taken captive by no falsehood: because as in past days, so also in our own, there are not wanting enemies of the Truth, who dare to stir up civil wars within the catholic Church3 , in order that by leading the ignorant into agreement with their ungodly doctrines they may boast of increase in numbers through those whom they have been able to sever from the Body of Christ. For what is so opposed to the Prophets, so repugnant to the Gospels, so at variance with the Apostles’ teaching as to preach one single Nature in the Lord Jesus Christ born of Mary, and without respect to time co-eternal with the Eternal Father? If it is only man’s nature which is to be acknowledged, where is the Godhead Which saves? if only God’s, where is the humanity which is saved? But the catholic Faith, which withstands all errors, refutes these blasphemies also at the same time, condemning Nestorius, who divides the Divine from the human, and denouncing Eutyches, who nullifies the human in the Divine; seeing that the Son of True God, Himself True God, possessing unity and equality with the Father and with the Holy Ghost, has vouchsafed likewise to be true Man, and after the Virgin Mother’s conception was not separated from her flesh and child-bearing, so uniting humanity to Himself as to remain immutably God; so imparting Godhead to man as not to destroy but enhance him by glorification. For He, Who became “the form of a slave,” ceased not to be “the form of God,” and He is not one joined with the other, but One in Both, so that ever since “the Word became Flesh” our faith is disturbed by no vicissitudes of circumstance, but whether in the miracles of power, or in the degradation of suffering, we believe Him to be both God, Who is Man, and Man, Who is God4 .
III. The Truth of the Incarnation is Proved Both by the Eucharistic Feast and by the Divine Institution of Almsgiving.
Dearly-beloved, utter this confession with all your heart and reject the wicked lies of heretics, that your fasting and almsgiving may not be polluted by any contagion with error: for then is our offering of the sacrifice clean and oar gifts of mercy holy, when those who perform them understand that which they do. For when the Lord says, “unless ye have eaten the flesh of the Son of Man, and drunk His blood, ye will not have life in you5 ,” you ought so to be partakers at the Holy Table, as to have no doubt whatever concerning the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood. For that is taken in the mouth which is believed in Faith, and it is vain for them to respond Amen6 who dispute that which is taken. But when the Prophet says, “Blessed is he, who considereth the poor and needy7 ,” he is the praiseworthy distributor of clothes and food among the poor, who knows he is clothing and feeding Christ in the poor: for He Himself says, “as long as ye have done it to one of My brethren, ye have done it to Me8 .” And so Christ is One, True God and True Man, rich in what is His own, poor in what is ours, receiving gifts and distributing gifts, Partner with mortals, and the Quickener of the dead, so that in the “name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, of things on earth, and of things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father9 ,” living and reigning with the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Cf. Serm. XIX. 2, per ipsius mundi cardines, quasi per quattuor evangelia, incessabiliter discimus quod et proedicemus et agamus.
2 Col 2,8,
3 The occasion of this Sermon seems to have been either the same or a similar one to that of Serm. XCVI., in which we read that certain traders had come to Rome from Egypt after the murder of Proterius, supporting the heresy of Eutyches).
4 For the whole of this chap. compare Lett. XXXI. chaps. 1 and 2.
5 Jn 6,53.
6 This (acc. to the Ball). is the Amen which the communicant said at the Reception of the Elements when the Priest said to Him, Corpus Christi and sanguis Christi: on the Eucharistic evidence against Eutyches, see Lett. LIX. chap. 2, and Serm LXIII. chap. 7.
7 Ps 41,1,
8 Mt 25,40.
9 Ph 2,10-11.
I. Introduction of the Subject.
When our Lord Jesus Christ, beloved, was preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, and was healing divers sicknesses through the whole of Galilee, the fame of His mighty works had spread into all Syria: large crowds too from all parts of Judaea were flocking to the heavenly Physician1 . For as human ignorance is slow in believing what it does not see, and in hoping for what it does not know, those who were to be instructed in the divine lore2 , needed to be aroused by bodily benefits and visible miracles: so that they might have no doubt as to the wholesomeness of His teaching when they actually experienced His benignant power. And therefore that the Lord might use outward healings as an introduction to inward remedies, and after healing bodies might work cures in the soul, He separated Himself from the surrounding crowd, ascended into the retirement of a neighbouring mountain, and called His apostles to Him there, that from the height of that mystic seat He might instruct them in the lottier doctrines, signifying from the very nature of the place and act that He it was who had once honoured Moses by speaking to him: then indeed with a more terrifying justice, but now with a holier mercifulness, that what had been promised might be fulfilled when the Prophet Jeremiah says: “behold the days come when I will complete a new covenant3 for the house of Israel and for the house of Judah. After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My laws in their minds4 , and in their heart will I write them5 .” He therefore who had spoken to Moses, spoke also to the apostles, and the swift hand of the Word wrote and deposited the secrets of the new covenant6 in the disciples’ hearts: there were no thick clouds surrounding Him as of old, nor were the people frightened off from approaching the mountain by frightful sounds and lightning7 , but quietly and freely His discourse reached the ears of those who stood by: that the harshness of the law might give way before the gentleness of grace, and “the spirit of adoption” might dispel the terrors of bondage8 .
II. The Blessedness of Humility Discussed
The nature then of Christ’s teaching is attested by His own holy statements: that they who wish to arrive at eternal blessedness may understand the steps of ascent to that high happiness. “Blessed,” He saith, “are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven9 .” It would perhaps be doubtful what poor He was speaking of, if in saying “blessed are the poor” He had added nothing which would explain the sort of poor: and then that poverty by itself would appear sufficient to winthe kingdom of heaven which many suffer from hard and heavy necessity. But when He says “blessed are the poor in spirit,” He shows that the kingdom of heaven must be assigned to those who are recommended by the humility of their spirits rather than by the smallness of their means. Yet it cannot be doubted that this possession of humility is more easily acquired by the poor than the rich: for submissiveness is the companion of those that want, while loftiness of mind dwells with riches10 . Notwithstanding, even in many of the rich is found that spirit which uses its abundance not for the increasing of its pride but on works of kindness, and counts that for the greatest gain which it expends in the relief of others’ hardships. It is given to every kind and rank of men to share in this virtue, because men may be equal in will, though unequal in fortune: and it does not matter how different they are in earthly means, who are found equal in spiritual possessions. Blessed. therefore, is poverty which is not possessed with a love of temporal things, and does not seek to be increased with the riches of the world, but is eager to amass heavenly possessions.
III. Scriptural Examples of Humility.
Of this high-souled humility the Apostles first11 , after the Lord, have given us example, who, leaving all that they had without difference at the voice of the heavenly Master, were turned by a ready change from the catching of fish to be fishers of men, and made many like themselves through the imitation of their faith, when with those first-begotten sons of the Church, “the heart of all was one, and the spirit one, of those that believed12 :”for they, putting away the whole of their things and possessions, enriched themselves with eternal goods, through the most devoted poverty, and in accordance with the Apostles’ preaching rejoiced to have nothing of the world and possess all things with Christ. Hence the blessed Apostle Peter, when he was going up into the temple, and was asked for alms by the lame man, said, “Silver and gold is not mine, but what I have that I give thee: in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk13 .” What more sublime than this humility? what richer than this poverty? He hath not stores of money14 , but he hath gifts of nature. He whom his mother had brought forth lame from the womb, is made whole by Peter with a word; and he who gave not Caesar’s image in a coin, restored Christ’s image on the man. And by the riches of this treasure not he only was aided whose lower of walking was restored, but 5,000 men also, who then believed at the Apostle’s exhortation on account of the wonder of this cure. And that poor man who had not what to give to the asker, bestowed so great a bounty of Divine Grace, that, as he had set one man straight on his feet, so he healed these many thousands of believers in their hearts, and made them “leap as an hart” in Christ whom he had found limping in Jewish unbelief.
IV. The Blessedness of Mourning Discussed.
After the assertion of this most happy humility, the Lord hath added, saying, “Blessed are they which mourn, for they shall be comforted15 .” This mourning, beloved, to which eternal comforting is promised, is not the same as the affliction of this world: nor do those laments which are poured out in the sorrowings of the whole human race make any one blessed. The reason for holy groanings, the cause of blessed tears, is very different. Religious grief mourns sin either that of others’ or one’s own: nor does it mourn for that which is wrought by God’s justice, but it laments over that which is committed by man’s iniquity, where he that does wrong is more to be deplored than he who suffers it, because the unjust man’s wrongdoing plunges him into punishment, but the just man’s endurance leads him on to glory.
V. The Blessedness of the Meek.
Next the Lord says: “blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth by inheritance16 .” To the meek and gentle, to the humble and modest, and to those who are prepared to endure all injuries, the earth is promised for their possession. And this is not to be reckoned a small or cheap inheritance, as if it were distinct from our heavenly dwelling, since it is no other than these who are understood to enter the kingdom of heaven. The earth, then, which is promised to the meek, and is to be given to the gentle in possession, is the flesh of the saints, which in reward for their humility will be changed in a happy resurrection, and clothed with the glory of immortality, in nothing now to act contrary to the spirit, and to be in complete unity and agreement with the will of the soul17 . For then the outer man will be the peaceful and unblemished possession of the inner man: then the mind, engrossed in beholding God, will be hampered by no obstacles of human weakness nor will it any more have to be said “The body which is corrupted, weigheth upon the soul, and its earthly house presseth down the sense which thinketh many things18 :” for the earth will not struggle against its tenant, and will not venture on any insubordination against the rule of its governor. For the meek shall possess it in perpetual peace, and nothing shall be taken from their rights, “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality19 :” that their danger may turn into reward, and what was a burden become an honour20 .
VI. The Blessedness of Desiring Righteousness.
After this the Lord goes on to say: “blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied21 .” It is nothing bodily, nothing earthly, that this hunger, thisthirst seeks for: but it desires to be satiated with the good food of righteousness, and wants to be admitted to all the deepest mysteries, and be filled with the Lord Himself. Happy the mind that craves this food and is eager for such drink: which it certainly would not seek for if it had never tasted of its sweetness. But hearing the Prophet’s spirit saying to him: “taste and see that the Lord is sweet22 ;” it has received some portion of sweetness from on high, and blazed out into love of the purest pleasure, so that spurning all things temporal, it is seized with the utmost eagerness for eating and drinking righteousness, and grasps the truth of that first commandment which says: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God out of all thy heart, and out of all thy mind, and out of all thy strength23 :” since to love God is nothing else but to love righteousness24 . In fine, as in that passage the care for one’s neighbour is joined to the love of God, so, too, here the virtue of mercy is linked to the desire for righteousness, and it is said:
VII. The Blessedness of the Merciful:
“Blessed are the merciful, for God shall have mercy on them25 .” Recognize, Christian, the worth of thy wisdom, and understand to what rewards thou art called, and by what methods of discipline thou must attain thereto. Mercy wishes thee to be merciful, righteousness to be righteous, that the Creator may be seen in His creature, and the image of God may be reflected in the mirror of the human heart expressed by the lines of imitation. The faith of those who do good26 is free from anxiety: thou shalt have all thy desires, and shalt obtain without end what thou lovest. And since through thine alms-giving all things are pure to thee, to that blessedness also thou shalt attain which is promised in consequence where the Lord says:
VIII. The Blessedness of a Pure Heart.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God27 .” Great is the happiness, beloved, of him for whom so great a reward is prepared. What, then, is it to have the heart pure, but to strive after those virtues which are mentioned above? And how great the blessedness of seeing God, what mind can conceive, what tongue declare? And yet this shall ensue when man’s nature is transformed, so that no longer “in a mirror,” nor “in a riddle,” but “face to face28 ” it sees the very Godhead “as He is29 ,” which no man could see30 ; and through the unspeakable joy of eternal contemplation obtains that “which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man31 .” Rightly is this blessedness promised to purity of heart. For the brightness of the true light will not be able to be seen by the unclean sight: and that which will be happiness to minds that are bright and clean, will be a punishment to those that are stained. Therefore, let the mists of earth’s vanities be shunned. and your inward eyes purged from all the filth of wickedness, that the sight may be free to feed on this great manifestation of God. For to the attainment of this we understand what follows to lead.
IX. The Blessedness of Peace-Making.
“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God32 .” This blessedness, beloved, belongs not to any and every kind of agreement and harmony, but to that of which the Apostle speaks: “have peace towards God33 ;” and of which the Prophet David speaks: “Much peace have they that love Thy law, and they have no cause of offences34 .” This peace even the closest ties of friendship and the exactest likeness of mind do not really gain, if they do not agree with God’s will. Similarity of bad desires, leagues in crimes, associations of vice, cannot merit this peace. The love of the world does not consort with the love of God, nor doth he enter the alliance of the sons of God who will not separate himself from the children of this generation35 Whereas they who are in mind always with God, “giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace36 ,” never dissent from the eternal law, uttering that prayer of faith, “Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth37 .” These are “the peacemakers,” these are thoroughly of one mind, and fully harmonious, and are to be called sons “of God and joint-heirs with Christ38 ,” because this shall be the record of the love of God and the love of our neighbour, that we shall suffer no calamities, be in fear of no offence, but all the strife of trial ended, rest in God’s most perfect peace, through our Lord, Who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Cf. Mt 4,23-24.
2 Divina eruditone firmandos = tou;" didaxqhsomevnou", a common form of expression in Leo. Cf. Lett. XXVIII. the Tome, chap. I, quod voce omnium regenerandorum (= tw`n ajnagennhqhsomevnwn), depromitur).
3 Or testament (Lat). testamentum).
4 In sensu ipsorum.
5 Jr 31,31 and part of Jr 31,33: the passage is quoted in full, He 8,8-12.
6 Or testament (Lat). testamentum).
7 Cf. He 12,18 and foll.
8 S. Paul’s lauguage (Rm 8,15) is in his mind.
9 Mt 5,3.
10 Et illis in tenuitate amica est mansuetudo et istis divitiis familiaris elatio.
11 The mss.vary between primum and primi. The rendering above given practically represents either. If primi, however, is read, it may be questioned whether the true rendering is not “the first apostles after the LORD,” which would be interesting assuggesting that S. Leo did not necessarily confine the title “apostle” to the Twelve.
12 Ac 4,32,
13 Ac 3,6,
14 Proesidia pecunioe.
15 Mt 5,4.
16 Mt 5,5. It will be observed that Leo’s order for the 2nd and 3rd beatitudes is that of the English version, not that of the Vulgate.
17 In nullo iam spiritui futura contraria et cum voluntate animi perfectoe unitatis habitura consensum: compare S. Aug). de Fide et symbolo, cap. 23, "est autem animoe natura perfecta cum spiritui suo subditar et cum sequitur sequentum Deum-non est desperandum etiam corpus restitui naturoe proprioe-tempore opportuno in novissima tuba, cum mortui resurgent incorrupti et nos immutabimur." The interpretation of this beatitude in this way is fantastic, and very strange to modern notions.
18 Sg 9,15.
19 1Co 15,53,
20 Quod fuit oneri, sit honori, the play on the words (which is quite classical) may perhaps be represented by the difference between onerous and honorary.
21 Mt 5,6.
22 Ps 34,8, suavis, A.V. and R.V.good, P.B.V. gracious, LXX. xrhstov".
23 Dt 6,5, quoted, it will be remembered, by our Lord, as “the first and great commandment” in the law, Mt 22,37 Mc 12,30 Lc 10,27,
24 The two words for “love” here are different, and speak for themselves, diligere (ajgapa`n) Deum and amare(ejpa`n) iustitiam.
25 Mt 5,7.
26 Operantium : operatio is the regular patristic term for the doing of charitable actions; for this application of the beatitude and its promised reward, compare Ps 41,1-3.
27 Mt 5,8.
28 1Co 13,12,
29 1Jn 3,2.
30 Ex 33,20 Jn 1,18 1Tm 6,16,
31 Is 64,4 1Co 2,9,
32 Mt 5,9.
33 Rm 5,1, where "we have" or "let us have" is the exact phrase.
34 Ps 119,165,
35 A carnali generatione.
36 Ep 4,3,
37 Mt 6,10.
38 Rm 8,17,
[i]Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series: Volume XII, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc). 1997.
Leo the Great: sermons 2090