Translated into English by Paul Spilsbury
from the Critical Latin Edition of the Centro Studi Antoniani, Padova, Italia (1979):
This translation has been made from the Critical Edition of the Sermons of St Antony Sermones Dominicales et Festivi sancti Antonii Patavini, published by the Centro Studi Antoniani at Padua in 1979. I have prepared it to accompany my study on the technique of ‘concordance’ employed by St Antony in his exposition of the Scriptures (hence the word ‘concordance’ and its related forms have been highlighted throughout in bold type). I have done my best to combine accuracy with readability, but I hope accuracy has prevailed when there has been any conflict.
A word about the footnotes and references. St Antony quotes other authors extensively in his work, as the footnotes to the Critical Edition show clearly. However, he does not cite those authors explicitly nearly as often. I have therefore only given references in those cases where he cites someone by name, or makes it clear that he is quoting. Readers who wish to identify all the other sources must go to the Critical Edition.
Scripture has been quoted from the Douai Version. Antony uses the Latin Vulgate, and many of his points are based upon verbal characteristics of his text. The Douai Version, though archaic, is also based on the Vulgate, and keeps close to its latinisms. I have sometimes needed to amend it, where Antony’s own interpretation seems to require it. Where he himself paraphrases the text, I have translated more freely.
The Cross Headings in bold type are taken from the table of themes referred to in St Antony’s General Prologue, in preference to those inserted by the Editors of the Critical Edition; it seems to me that they give a better idea of how he himself sub-divided his material. In the case of two sermons, those for the first and the third Sundays in Lent, this has meant that I have recombined material that the Editors have divided. Thus the Editorial paragraph numbers (which I have retained for convenience of cross-reference throughout the translation) begin again in the course of those sermons.
As well as the Sunday Sermons, this translation includes the Marian Sermons, (which in the Critical Edition are printed between the twelfth and thirteenth Sundays after Pentecost), and the Festival Sermons. There is no table of themes for the Festival Sermons; consequently the cross-headings are those of the Editors.
NOTE: St Antony frequently refers to the ‘Gloss’, the Glossa Ordinaria and the Glossa Interlineara. Where he makes an explicit reference, I have enclosed it in quotation marks; I have not done so, however, for the many passages identified by the Editors but not explicitly noted by Antony. It may be assumed that the references are to the Gloss on the Scriptural text under discussion. I have only included references in the footnotes when Antony cites a specific author, such as Augustine, but the Editors give only a reference to the Gloss.
Copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd. Dr. S.R.P.Spilsbury, 10 Woodside Grove, Henbury, Bristol, BS10 7RF. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fr. Paul Spilsbury was born in Bristol, England, in 1939. From 19581969 he was a member of the English Province of the Franciscan Friars Minor (OFM), and was ordained priest in 1965. He studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Nottingham from 1966-1971. From 1972 he was a parish priest in the Church of England, but left parish ministry in 1995. He was awarded a Doctorate in Philosophy by the University of Bristol in 1999 for his research into the writings of St Antony of Padua. His Doctoral dissertation is entitled "The Concordance of Scripture: The homiletic and exegetical methods of St Antony of Padua". He is married, with three sons and two daughters. For a Scholarly Study of the Sermons of St. Antony:
2) Non-Biblical PL Patrologia Latina
1. According to the First Book of Chronicles,
David gave the purest gold: to make the likeness of the chariot of the cherubims, spreading their wings and veiling the ark of the covenant of the Lord. (1Ch 28,18)
2. Genesis speaks of
The land of Hevilath, where gold groweth, and the gold of that land is very good. (Gn 2,11-12)
The name Hevilath is supposed to mean ‘bringing forth’. It stands for Holy Scripture, which is
The earth (which) of itself bringeth forth fruit,
first the blade, then the ear,
afterwards the full corn in the ear.(Mc 4,28)
By the blade we understand the allegorical sense of Scripture, which builds up faith in accordance with the words:
Let the earth bring forth the green (growing) herb. (Gn 1,11)
By the ear we understand the moral sense, which gives form to our behaviour and pierces the mind with its sweetness; and by the full grain is represented the anagogical sense, which treats of the fulness of joy and of angelic blessedness.
So, in the land of Hevilath is found the finest gold, because from the text of the divine page we mine holy understanding. Just as gold is superior to other metals, so understanding is better than mere knowledge. A person who has no understanding of the deeper meaning of Scripture does not grasp even the literal sense properly.
3. Some scholars say that the name David means ‘merciful’, others that it means ‘strongarmed’, or else ‘desirable in appearance’. David, then, stands for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was merciful in his Incarnation, strong-armed in his Passion, and who will be desirable for us to behold in eternal blessedness.
He is merciful in pouring out grace, even upon beginners. Mercy irrigates the heart. So it says in Ecclesiasticus:
I will water my garden of plants,
and I will water abundantly the fruits of my bringing-forth. (Si 24,42)
The garden is the soul, in which Christ, like a gardener, plants the sacraments of the faith, and which he then waters when he makes it fertile with the grace of repentance. Our soul is called the fruit of the Lord’s bringing-forth, that is, of his suffering. This is because, like a woman giving birth, he brought it forth in the agony of his Passion.
offering up with a strong cry and tears, (He 5,7) as the Apostle says; and in Isaiah:
Shall not I, that make others to bring forth children, myself bring forth, saith the Lord? (Is 66,9)
He soaks the fruit of his bringing-forth when, with the myrrh and aloes of his Passion, he mortifies the delights of the flesh, so that the soul, like one drunk, may forget worldly things:
Thou hast visited the earth and inebriated it. (Ps 64,10)
He is strong-armed when he carries souls onward from strength to strength, especially those who are making progress in the faith. So it is said in Isaiah:
I am the Lord thy God, who take thee by the hand,
and say to thee: Fear not, for I have helped thee. (Is 41,13)
Just as a loving mother of a little child, when he wants to climb the stairs, takes his hand in hers so that he can climb after her, so the Lord takes the hand of the humble penitent with the hand of love, that he may climb by the ladder of the cross to the state of perfection, so as to become worthy to see him who is desirable in appearance,
the King in his beauty...
on whom the angels desire to look. (Is 33,17 1P 1,12)
And so our David, the Son of God, a merciful and gracious Lord... who giveth abundantly and upbraideth not (Ps 110,4 Jc 1,5), has given gold, that is the holy understanding of divine Scripture:
He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. (Lc 24,45)
the purest gold, that is, purified from every scrap of dirt, from every defilement of heretical perversity.
4. There follows:
To make the likeness of the chariot of the cherubims. which means the fulness of knowledge, and which stands for the Old and New
Testaments, in which is the fulness of knowledge, the only knowledge worthy of the name, that makes men knowledgeable; the key-texts of which are as it were wings, which are spread out precisely when they are expounded in the three-fold way referred to above; and so they ‘veil the ark of the Lord’s covenant.’ It is called an ‘ark’ from the Latin arcere, to shut off (from sight), or to keep safe (from a thief). The ark is the faithful soul which should conceal from itself the sight of pride, Leviathan, who according to Job:
beholdeth every high thing; He is king over all the children of pride. (Jb 41,25)
and which should keep itself safe from the thief whose holiness is a pretence, who belongs to the darkness of the night, and who is referred to in the Psalm as:
the business that walketh about in the dark. (Ps 90,6)
This ark is called ‘of the Lord’s covenant’ because it initiates an eternal covenant with the Lord in Baptism, namely to renounce the Devil and his pomps:
I have sworn; and am determined to keep it. (Ps 118,106)
This ark is veiled by the wings of the cherubim when it is protected and defended by the preaching of both the New and the Old Testaments from the heat of worldly prosperity, from the rain of carnal desire, and from the thunder of diabolic temptation.
5. And so we have made this ‘chariot-throne’ to the honour of God, to the building up of souls, and to the comfort of reader and listener; from the understanding of Holy Scripture and from the authorities of either Testament, so that in it, with Elijah, the soul may be lifted up from earthly things and borne away into the heaven of celestial conversation. And note that as on a chariot there are four wheels, so in this work four matters are dealt with, namely: the Lord’s Gospels, the history of the Old Testament as it is read in Church, the Introit, and the Epistle of the Sunday Mass. I have collected together and concorded each of these, as divine grace has granted and as far as my slender and paltry knowledge allows, following the reapers with Ruth the Moabitess, to gather the fallen ears in the field of Boaz, with fear and modesty as one inadequate for so great and important a burden; yet conquered by the prayers and love of brothers who have constrained me to it. And so that the reader’s mind may not be confused by the multiplicity of the material, and the variety of the concordances, and forget it all, we have divided the Gospels into clauses, as God has inspired, and concorded each with the parts of each history and Epistle. We have expounded the Gospels and histories rather more fully, and the Introits and Epistles in a briefer and more summary way, so that over-wordiness may not give rise to boredom. It is very hard to cover a complicated subject in a brief and useful sermon.
Nowadays, preachers and congregations are so shallow that if a sermon is not full of polished and studied phrases, and a dash of novelty, they are too critical to take any notice of it. So in order that the word of the Lord should come to them in a way they will not disdain or scorn, to the peril of their souls, I have prefaced each gospel with a suitable prologue, and included in the work itself illustrations drawn from physics and natural history, and explanations of the meanings of words, expounded from the standpoint of morality. I have brought together in one place the headings of all the texts quoted, from which the theme for a sermon may be readily gathered; and I have noted beforehand, at the beginning of the book, the places in which they are to be found, and whatever things are appropriate to the matter.
And so to the Son of God, the Origin of all creation, in whom alone we set and look for the reward of this work, be all praise, all glory and all honour; who is praised and glorious, the blessed God through endless ages. Let the whole Church say: Amen. Alleluia.
(First, the Gospel for Septuagesima: The kingdom of heaven is like to a householder, which is divided into two clauses. The Introit of the Mass: They have surrounded me. The Epistle; Know you not that they that run in the stadium. The History: In the beginning God created heaven and earth.)
(In the first clause of this Gospel you will find at least these themes for sermons or principles for preaching:)
(First, a sermon for forming the heart of a sinner and on the property of a tile: Take thee a tile.)
1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gn 1,1)
The Holy Spirit says to Ezekiel, that is, to the preacher:
And thou, O son of man, take thee a tile, and draw upon it the plan of the city of Jerusalem. (Ez 4,11)
A tile represents the heart of a sinner because of four characteristics which it has: it is moulded between two boards, it is flattened out, it is hardened by fire, and it is made red.
The heart of a sinner should be moulded between the two boards of the Old and New Testaments; for as the Psalmist says:
Between the midst of the hills the waters shall pass, (Ps 103,101)
meaning that the waters of doctrine flow from the two Testaments. The word ‘moulded’ is appropriate, because the sinner who has become mis-shapen by sin receives a new shape from the preaching of the two Testaments.
Again, the heart is in a certain sense flattened out. The breadth of charity widens the narrow heart of the sinner. We may recall the words:
Thy commandment is exceeding broad, (Ps 118,96) and "Charity is wider than the ocean."
Then again it is made hard by fire, for the fickle and unstable mind is hardened by the fire of tribulation, lest it run away in the love of temporal things. Solomon says that what a furnace does to gold, what a file does to iron, what a flail does to grain: that tribulation does to the just man (cf. Sg 3,6).
Finally, it is made red; by which is indicated the boldness of holy zeal, of which it is said:
The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up, (Ps 68,10)
With zeal I have been zealous for the house of Israel. (1R 19,10)
The house represents the Church or the faithful soul.
So there are these four things to be learnt from the tile:
a) the knowledge of each Testament for the instruction of one’s neighbour;
b) an abundance of charity to love him;
c) patience in tribulation to suffer insults for Christ;
d) steadfast zeal to bear every evil.
So, take thee a tile and draw on it the City of Jerusalem.
2. Note that the spiritual Jerusalem is threefold: first the Church Militant, second the faithful soul, third the heavenly homeland. In the Lord’s name, then, I will take a tile- the heart of anyone who will listen- and I will inscribe upon it the threefold City, namely, the articles of the Church’s faith, the virtues of the soul, and the reward of our heavenly homeland. I will comment on texts from each Testament, and expound them under seven headings.
(A sermon on the seven articles of faith: The first day, God said: Be light made.)
3. In the beginning God created heaven and earth.
These words refer to that which contains and that which is contained. God the Father created, and he re-creates, ‘in the Beginning’ (that is, in the Son). He created in six days, resting on the seventh; he creates anew in six articles of faith, promising eternal rest on the seventh.
On the first day God said:
Be light made. And light was made. (Gn 1,6)
The first article of faith is the Nativity.
On the second day God said:
Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. (Gn 1,6)
The second article of faith is Baptism On the third day God said:
Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit alter its kind. (Gn 1,11)
The third article is the Passion.
On the fourth day God said:
Let there be two great lights in the firmament. (cf. Gn 1,14)
The fourth article is the Resurrection.
On the fifth day God made the birds of the air (cf. Gen Gn 1 Gen Gn 20). The fifth article is the Ascension.
On the sixth day God said:
Let us make man to our image and likeness... And he breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul. (Gn 1,26 Gn 2,7)
The sixth article is the sending of the Holy Spirit.
On the seventh day God rested from all the work which he had done (cf. Gn 2,2). The seventh article is the coming to judgement, in which we shall rest from all our works and labours.
Let us call upon the Holy Spirit, who is Love, the bond between the Father and the Son. May he grant us so to be united with each of these seven days and articles, and in accord with them, that it may avail for his honour and the building-up of his Church.
(A sermon on the Nativity of the Lord: The first day, God said: Be light made.)
4. On the first day God said, Be light made.
This light is the Wisdom of God the Father, enlightening every man coming into this world (cf. Jn 1,9), and dwelling in inaccessible light (cf. 1Tm 6,16); concerning which the Apostle writes to the Hebrews:
Who is the brightness and image of his substance; (He 1,3) and of which the Prophet says:
In thy light we shall see light; (Ps 35,10) and in the Book of Wisdom:
Wisdom is the brightness of the eternal light. (Sg 7,26)
It is of this, then, that the Father says: Be light made. And light was made, which John interprets more clearly when he says:
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (Jn 1,14)
Ezekiel too, in like sense but in different words, says:
The hand of God was laid upon me, (Ez 3,22)
that is to say the Son, in whom and through whom all things were made. The light, then, which was inaccessible and invisible was made visible in the flesh, to enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (cf. Lc 1,79).
Regarding this enlightenment, we have the passage in John where Jesus spat on the ground and made clay and anointed the eyes of the man born blind. (cf. Jn 9,61)
The spittle, coming from the head of the Father, signifies Wisdom, since the head of Christ is God (1Co 11,3). As the spittle is joined to dust, so divinity is joined to humanity,
that the eyes of the man born blind may be enlightened- that is, the eyes of the human race which was blinded in our first parent. We see clearly then that on the very same day, the Lord’s day, that God said: Let there be light, the Wisdom of God the Father was born of the Virgin Mary and scattered the darkness which was upon the face of the deep (cf. Gn 1,2), that is of the human heart. Wherefore upon that very day we sing in the Dawn Mass: Light has shone (Is 9,21), and in the Gospel: A light from heaven shone about the shepherds (cf. Lc 2,9).
(A sermon on Baptism and those who violate it: Let there be a firmament.)
5. On the second day God said: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. The firmament in the midst of the waters is Baptism, separating the upper waters from the lower waters; that is to say, separating the faithful from the unfaithful, who are rightly called ‘lower waters’ because they seek the things that are below and daily fall short by their defects. ‘The waters above’, however, stand for the faithful who, according to the Apostle, should seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Col 3,1)
Note too that we refer to ‘crystal’ waters. A crystal, when it is touched by the rays of the sun, emits brilliant sparks. Likewise the faithful man, enlightened by the rays of the sun, should give forth sparks of true preaching and of good works, to set his neighbour on fire. But alas, alas! When the firmament is cracked the waters flow to waste in the dead sea, and they flow in with what is dead. So Ezekiel says:
These waters that issue forth from the mound of sand to the east, go down to the plains of the desert, and shall enter the sea. (Ez 47,8)
The mound stands for contemplation, in which as in a tomb the dead are buried and hidden. The contemplative, being dead to the world and hidden from the hurly-burly of men, is as it were buried. And so Job says:
Thou shalt enter into the grave in abundance, as a heap of wheat is brought in its season. (Jb 5,26)
The just man enters the grave of the contemplative life in the abundance of the grace conferred upon him, just as a heap of grain is carried into the barn at harvest-time. The chaff of temporal things has been winnowed away, and his mind rests in the barn of heavenly fulness. Being at rest, it is filled with the sweetness of heaven.
6. Note too that the mound is said to be of sand to the east. By the sand, penance is indicated. So you find in Exodus that Moses hid the Egyptian he had slain in the sand (Ex 2,12), because the just man ought to strike down mortal sin in confession, and hide it with the satisfaction of penance; and that penance should always look towards that East of which Zacharias speaks:
Behold a man, the Orient is his name. (Za 6,12)
We read, then, of those waters which issue forth from the mound of sand towards the east. Alas! How much water, and how many religious, issue forth from the mound of the contemplative life, from the sand of penance, from the east of grace! They issue forth, I say, with Dinah and Esau from their father’s house (cf. Gn 34,1 Gn 28,9), that is they go out with the devil and with Cain from the face of God, and with Judas the traitor, who held the purse, from the school of Christ. They go down to the level of the desert, to the plain of the wilderness of Jericho, in which, as Jeremiah tells, Zedekiah was blinded by Nebuchadnezzar (the devil) in the full extent of his temporal possessions (the sinner is deprived of the light of reason); and his own sons (his works) were slain by the devil. In this plain Cain (whose name means ‘possession’) killed Abel (whose name means ‘struggle’). The possession of transitory abundance kills the struggle of penance. And so the waters go down to the level of the desert; wherefore it is said in Genesis:
When they went forth from the east into the west, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar. (cf. Gn 11,2)
The sons of Adam go forth from the east of grace into the west of sin, and when they have found the plain of worldly pleasure they dwell in the land of Sennaar (which means ‘a stench’). In the stench of gluttony and lust they build a house in which to dwell, not like christians but like pagans who take the name of their God in vain. The Lord says in Exodus:
Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain. (Ex 20,7)
He who uses the name of God without its meaning, instead of respecting the meaning of the name, takes it in vain. And so they enter the sea, which is the bitterness of sin, in order to pass from this to the bitterness of torment. God made the firmament of Baptism in the midst of the waters, to divide the waters from the waters; but these sinners, as Isaiah says,
have transgressed the laws, they have changed the ordinance, they have broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore shall a curse devour the earth; and the inhabitants thereof shall sin,
and therefore they that dwell therein shall grow mad. (Is 25,5-6)
The written law and the law of grace are transgressed, because they are not willing to keep the written law like slaves, or the law of grace like sons. They alter the natural law, which is: "Whatever you do not want done to you, do not do to others." They break the everlasting covenant which they made in Baptism. Therefore the curse of pride shall devour the earth (that is, earthly folk), and those who dwell in it shall sin with the sin of avarice, those to whom is said in the Apocalypse, Woe to you who dwell upon the earth;
and those who cultivate it shall grow mad with the sin of lust, which is weakness and derangement of mind.
(A sermon on the Passion of Christ and the faith of the Church: Let the earth bring forth, etc.)
7. On the third day God said: Let the earth bring forth the green herb. The earth or ground (which derives its name from the word ‘grind’) is the body of Christ, which according to Isaiah was ground down for our sins (cf. Is 53,5). This ground was dug and ploughed with the nails and the spear. As someone has said, "The earth when it has been dug will give its fruits in due season. The flesh of Christ when dug gave heavenly kingdoms." It brought forth the growing herb in the Apostles, it made the seed of preaching in the martyrs, and the fruit tree bearing fruit in the confessors and virgins. In the primitive Church faith was like a tender plant, so that the Apostles might have said, in the words of Canticles, Our sister (the infant Church) is little (in the number of the faithful), and has no breasts (wherewith she may nourish her children) (cf. Ct 8,8). She had not yet been made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and so they said, What shall we do with our sister on the day (of Pentecost) when she is to be spoken to (by the speaking of the Holy Spirit)? Concerning this, the Lord said in the Gospel:
He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, (Jn 14,26)
(that is, he will supply assistance).
8. On the fourth day God said: Let there be two lights in the firmament. In the firmament which is Christ, now glorified through the Resurrection, there are two lights- namely the brightness of the Resurrection, which is signified by the sun, and the incorruptibility of the flesh, which is signified by the moon. This refers to the state of the sun and moon before our first parent’s fall. After his disobedience all creatures suffer some loss. That is why the Apostle says:
Every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. (Rm 8,22)
9. On the fifth day God made the birds in the sky, to which there appropriately corresponds the fifth article of faith, the Ascension. In the Ascension the Son of God flew like a bird up to the right hand of the Father, with the flesh he had assumed. So he himself says in Isaiah:
who call a bird from the east, and from a far country the man of my own will. (Is 46,11)
‘Calling from the east’ refers to the Mount of Olives, which is to the east of Jerusalem. Of this it is said:
He ascends upon the heaven of heavens, (Ps 67,34)
that is, to equality with the Father. The ‘bird’ is ‘my Son’, and ‘from a far country’ (the world) comes ‘the man of my will’, he who said:
My meat is to do the will of my Father who sent me. (Jn 4,34)
10. On the sixth day God said: Let us make man, and the sixth article of faith is the sending of the Holy Spirit. In this mystery the image of God which had been deformed and defiled in man is re-formed and enlightened by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who
breathed into the face of man the breath of life. (Gn 2,7)
As it is said in the Acts of the Apostles:
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind coming. (Ac 2,2)
Note that the Holy Spirit is well called ‘mighty’, since he takes away eternal woe and bears the mind above. Hence David the prophet says:
The light of thy countenance is signed upon us, O Lord. (Ps 4,7)
The countenance of the Father is the Son; just as someone is recognised by their countenance, so the Father is recognised through the Son. The light of the countenance of God is therefore knowledge of the Son and the enlightening of faith, which was stamped and impressed upon the hearts of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, like a seal, and thus man was made a living soul.
11. On the seventh day God rested from all his works. Even so the Church rests in the seventh article of faith from all her labour and sweat. Then God shall wipe every tear from her eyes (Ap 21,4), that is to say, every cause of weeping. Then she will be praised by her Spouse, and be found worthy to hear the words:
Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates, (Pr 31,31)
the gates, that is, of judgements. Then she together with her children shall hear the still small voice, Come, ye blessed.
In these seven days and seven articles, described briefly and in passing, we approach the task of expounding the six virtues of the faithful soul, which are the moral significance of the six hours referred to in the Gospel reading; together with the meaning of the penny and of the sabbath.
So, dear brothers, let us ask the Word of the Father, the first principle of all creation, that in the seven days of this life, while we are living according to the body, we may live
according to the soul in the seven articles of faith; by which we may be found worthy to come to him who is the life, and the sabbath rest, and the reward of the saints; by him who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
(On the second clause. In the second clause of the Gospel, first a sermon on contrition of heart for penitents: God said: Be light made, and light was made.)
12. We will now treat in more detail the things of Jerusalem, that is to say of the faithful soul, which in Matthew is called a vineyard, inasmuch as it has to be dug around with the hoe of contrition, pruned with the sickle of confession, and supported by the stakes of satisfaction.
God said, Be light made. And light was made. Just as Ezekiel speaks of a wheel within a wheel (cf. Ez 1,16), so is the New Testament within the Old; and just as curtain is coupled to curtain (cf. Ex 26,3), so the New explains the Old. In this way let us concord the New Testament with the Old, as we explain the moral sense of the six hours of the Gospel reading in terms of the six days of creation.
13. On the first day, then, God said, Be light made. And light was made. Hear how this is concordant with the first hour:
The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning. (Mt 20,1)
Note that there are six virtues of the soul, namely: contrition of heart, confession by the mouth, satisfaction in works, love of God and neighbour, the exercise of the active and contemplative life, and the completion of final perseverance. When the darkness of mortal sin is ‘upon the face of the deep’ (that is, of the heart), man suffers ignorance as regards knowledge of God, and as regards his own frailty; and he does not know how to distinguish between good and evil. This is that three day period spoken of in Exodus, when
for three days there was a darkness that could be felt in the land of Egypt; but where the children of Israel were there was light. (cf. Ex 10,21-23)
The three days are: the knowledge of God, the knowledge of oneself, and the ability to distinguish good and evil. St Augustine1 prays like this for the first two: "Lord, grant that I may know you and myself." Genesis speaks of the third in the text:
The tree of good and evil was in paradise, (cf. Gn 2,9) that is, the ability to distinguish between good and evil was in the mind of man.
The first day enlightens us to know the dignity of our soul; whence Ecclesiasticus says:
Keep thy soul in meekness and give it honour. (Si 10,31)
But wretched man,
when he was in honour, did not understand; he was made like the senseless beasts. (Ps 48,13)
The second day enlightens us to know our own weakness, whence Micah says:
Thy humiliation shall be in the midst of thee. (Mi 6,14)
Our ‘midst’ is our belly, the place where excrement is produced. In considering what defiles us our pride is humbled, our arrogance is trodden down, and our conceit is blown away.
The third day enlightens us to distinguish between day and night, between disease and wholeness, between what is clean and what is unclean. We have great need of this ability, for, as has been said,2 "What is evil is neighbour to what is good, and can be mistaken for it. Virtue has often been punished, instead of vice."
In these three days there is truly a darkness that can be felt in the land of Egypt, and upon the face of the deep; but wherever the true children of Israel are, there is light, the light of which God said Be light made. This is the light of contrition of heart, enlightening the soul, the light which shows the knowledge of God, the awareness of our own weakness and the distinction between good and evil in man.
14. This is the first morning and the first hour, when the householder (that is, the penitent) goes forth to hire labourers to work in his vineyard, as the Gospel for this Sunday relates. In the Introit of the Mass we sing, The sorrows of death came about me, and the Epistle read is that of the blessed Paul to the Corinthians: Know ye not that those who run in the stadium, etc. Of this morning the Psalmist says:
In the morning I will stand before you. (Ps 5,5)
that is, in the beginning of grace I shall stand as true and upright as you made me to be. For, as St Augustine3 says, "God, who is true and upright, made man to be true and upright, so that only the soles of his feet should touch the ground; in other words, so that he might seek from the earth only those things that are necessary." Of this morning it is said in Mark:
And very early on the first day alter the sabbath they came to the tomb, the sun being already risen. (Mc 16,2)
Note that it is well-called ‘the first day after the sabbath’, because no-one can come to the tomb (that is, to the consideration of his death), unless he first rests from the care of temporal things. As the Psalmist says:
In the morning I put to death all the wicked in the land. (Ps 100,8)
(that is, in contrition I put down all the movements of my flesh). The Bridegroom says of the penitent soul:
Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising? (Ct 6,9)
15. As the dawn is the beginning of day and the end of night, so contrition is the end of sin and the beginning of repentance. And so the Apostle says:
You were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord; (Ep 5,8)
The night is passed and day is at hand. (Rm 13,12)
So at first light and early in the morning the householder goes out to tend the vineyard, of which Isaiah says:
A vineyard was made for the beloved in the horn of a son of oil.
He fenced it around, and took out stones from it;
and he built a tower in the midst of it, and made a winepress in it,
and planted a choice vine. (Is 5,1-2)
The vineyard is the soul. It is made for the beloved, that is, for the honour of the beloved. ‘In a horn’ means ‘in the strength of the Passion’. The Beloved is ‘a son of oil’, that is to say, of mercy; for only by mercy, and not by the works of justice which we have done (Tt 3,5), did he make that vineyard safe; which he fenced round with the hedge of the written law and the law of grace. Solomon speaks of this in Proverbs:
He that breaketh down a hedge, a serpent shall bite him, (Qo 10,8)
meaning that he who destroys the law will be bitten by the devil, who ‘cultivates shadows’ (that is, sinners). And so Job says:
He sleepeth under the shade, he rests in the covert of the reed, and in moist places. (Jb 40,16)
That is, with overcast mind he rests in the deceit of the hypocrite and in extravagance.
There follows: And he removed stones from it (the hardness of sin); he built a tower in the midst of it (humility, or else the superior part of reason); and set up the winepress of contrition, from which is pressed out the wine of tears; and so, by the examples and teachings of the saints, he planted a choice vine where at early morn the householder may bring the labourers (that is, the love and fear of God) who will tend it well.
(A sermon for penitents: Saul came in.)
16. Concerning this morn we read that:
Saul came into the midst of the camp of the sons of Ammon in the morning watch, and he slew the Ammonites until the heat of the day. (cf. 1S 11,11)
Saul stands for penitence, having been anointed with the oil of grace; ‘at the morning watch’ (contrition of heart) he must enter the midst of the camp of the sons of Ammon (Ammon means ‘paternal water’, and stands for the movements of the flesh which from our first parent flow into us like running water). These Saul must strike down until the heat of the day, that is, until the fervour of grace irradiates the mind and warms it by its radiation.
(A sermon against the rich: The Lord prepared a worm.)
Again, concerning this morn you find in the prophet Jonah that
The Lord prepared a worm when the morning arose, and it struck the ivy and it withered. (Jon 4,7)
Ivy cannot raise itself up by itself. It seeks a higher position by clinging to the branches of another tree, and so stands for the man rich in the wealth of this world, who is lifted up to heaven not by himself but by the alms he gives to the poor, as it were clinging to the branches. And so our Lord says in the Gospel:
Make you friends of the mammon of iniquity (that is, of in-equity) that when you shall fail they may receive you. (Lc 16,9)
As the morning arises, the ivy is struck and cut down by the teeth of a worm; that is, at the rising of grace or of contrition of heart the penitent experiences the gnawing of conscience. Then, as the ivy falls to the ground, so the penitent regards himself as earth, becoming in his own eyes dried up and worthless, and saying with the Psalmist:
My flesh and my heart hath fainted away; (Ps 72,26) that is, the pride of my heart and my carnal nature.
Having dealt with these matters of the first day and the early morning of contrition, we now pass to the second day and the third hour of confession.
(A sermon for those confessing: Let there be a firmament.)
17. On the second day God said: Let a firmament be made in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. The firmament is confession, which firmly binds a man so that he does not slip into dissipation. The Lord reproves the sinful soul which lacks this firmament, through Jeremiah:
How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter? (Jr 31,22) and through Isaiah:
Pass thy land as a river, O daughter of the sea; for thou hast a girdle no more. (Is 23,10)
The wretched soul is called ‘daughter of the sea’, sucking the pleasure of the world as from the devil’s breast: sweet-tasting but giving rise to eternal bitterness. So James says:
When concupiscence hath conceived it bringeth forth sin; but sin when it is completed begetteth death. (Jc 1,15)
This is the point of the words, Pass thy land as a river. It is as if to say: Gird yourself with the girdle of confession and hitch up your garments, lest they drag in the dirt. Do not try to cross upon the bridge of earthly wealth; on it many have been endangered. Cross rather by the scarcity and narrowness of poverty, for a narrow stream is crossed in security of soul. But ‘there is no girdle’ for the sinful soul, meaning that there is not the firm ground of confession. Hence the words, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. The waters above are the flowings of grace; the waters below are the flowings of concupiscence, which a man ought to thrust beneath him.
Alternatively, the mind of the just man possesses ‘waters above’, that is to say, reason which is the superior power of the soul, and which always urges man to good. The ‘waters below’, on the other hand, namely sensuality, always tend to drag him down. So the firmament of confession divides the upper waters from the lower, so that whoever confesses goes out of Sodom and up into the hills, not looking back like Lot’s wife who was turned into a statue or pillar of salt (cf. Gn 19,17 Gn 19,26). The animals (that is, the demons) eagerly consume that pillar by licking. When the just man goes out from Egypt
with the true Israelites, journeying to the land of promise, he does not set up his own guide (that is to say, his own will) to lead him back to the fleshpots, peppers and pickles of the Egyptians (the desire for carnal things).
I pray then that there may be a firmament in the midst of the waters. Then, when the penitent has given his confessor the assurance of a firm purpose not to fall back, he will deserve, in the very act of confessing, to be inebriated with the new wine of the Holy Spirit, like the Apostles at the third hour. Made new by confession, he will be filled like a bottle with new wine. For as the Lord says:
If the new wine is put into an old bottle, the bottle will be broken and the wine spilt. (cf. Lc 5,37)
The new wine is the Holy Spirit, the old bottle is the former sinful life. That is what happened to the unrepentant traitor Judas, who was hung by the neck like a bottle and burst in the midst of his belly, so that his bowels, which had drunk dry the poison of avarice, were spilt upon the ground (cf. Ac 1,18).
Confession is well named ‘the third hour’, because whoever makes a true confession is like a householder cultivating the vineyard of his soul. In three things he should confess himself blameworthy, namely, that he has offended God, killed himself, and been a stumbling-block to his neighbour. He has done this by not showing due justice to each: honour to God, care for himself, and love for his neighbour. Well may he complain, in the Introit of today’s Mass, The pangs of death have encompassed me (because he has offended God), the pains of hell have surrounded me (because he has fallen into mortal sin), and in my tribulation (whereby he is troubled because he has scandalised his neighbour) I cried to the Lord (with contrition of heart); and from his holy temple (Christ’s humanity, in which his divinity dwells) he heard my voice (that is, the voice of the penitent’s confession).
(A sermon for penitents or enclosed religious: Who hath sent out the wild ass.)
18. On the third day God said:
Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as yieldeth seed according to its kind, having seed each one according to its kind upon the earth.
Note that by the third day is denoted the satisfaction of penance, which comprises three forms: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, which are signified by the three aforementioned things.
It is written, then, Let the earth bring forth the herb. The herb that grows signifies prayer; whence Job says of the penitent:
Who hath sent out the wild ass free? and who hath loosed his bonds?
To whom I have given a house in the wilderness, and his dwelling in the barren lands.
He scorneth the multitude of the city, and heareth not the cry of the driver.
He looketh round about the mountains of his pasture, and seeketh for every green thing. (Jb 39,5-8)
The wild ass or onager is so-called from the words for ‘burden’ (onus) and ‘field’ (ager), and it signifies the penitent man, who in the field of the Church bears the burden of penance. This man the Lord lets go free, and looses his bonds, when he permits him to depart freed from the slavery of the devil and loosed from the bonds of sin. Whence in John the Lord says:
Loose him and let him go. (Jn 11,44)
To him God gives a house in the wilderness of the mind, and a dwelling of the active life wherein he serves in the barren lands of worldly conversation. And so the penitent scorns the multitude of the city, of which the Lord says through the prophet:
I am the Lord and I do not change, (Ml 3,6)
nor enter the city; and David says:
I have seen iniquity (as to God) and contradiction (as to neighbour) in the city. (Ps 54,10)
He hears not the cry of the driver. The driver or ‘exactor’ is the devil, who once offered the coin of sin to the first parent and now ceaselessly demands daily repayment with usury. The penitent does not hear the voice of this exactor, since he pays no heed to his suggestions. Alternatively, the exactor may mean the belly, which daily demands clamorously the tribute of gluttony. But the penitent does not hear it at all, because he does not obey it for pleasure, only for necessity.
The wild ass looks around the mountains of his pasture because, being placed among the excellent things of life, he looks around and finds the pastures of Sacred Scripture;
and he says with the Psalmist:
He hath set me in a place of pasture; (Ps 22,2)
and so he seeks for every green thing in the devotion of prayer, so that from the pasture of sacred reading he comes to browse on the greenery of devout prayer, of which it is said, Let the earth bring forth the green herb.
19. There follows, and producing seed, by which fasting is signified- whence Isaiah says:
Blessed are ye that sow upon the waters, entwining the foot of the ox and the ass. (Is 32,20)
He sows upon the waters, who adds fasting to both prayer and the compunction that brings tears, and in this way he ‘entwines’ (with the bonds of the commandments) the foot (the affection) of the ox (the spirit) and the ass (the body). Thus the Lord says that this kind of demon (uncleanness of heart and the lust of the flesh) cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting (cf. Mt 19,21). By prayer we cleanse the heart from impure thoughts; by fasting we restrain the wantonness of the flesh.
There follows thirdly: The fruit tree yielding fruit alter its kind. In the fruit-tree almsgiving is signified, which bears fruit among the needy, and by their hands is carried back into heaven. Notice the words: yielding fruit according to its kind. The ‘kind’ of man is the ‘other man’, created of the ground and quickened by the soul. One should therefore give alms, the ‘fruit according to one’s kind’, because the soul is refreshed by spiritual, and the body by corporeal, bread. Whence Job says:
When thou visitest thy species, thou shalt not sin. (Jb 5,24)
Your ‘species’ is the other man, whom you ought to visit with alms both spiritual and corporeal; and in this way you will not sin against the commandment:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Mt 22,39)
But note the words ‘whose seed is in itself’. On this, St Augustine4 comments: "He who wishes to give alms in due order, must start first with himself."
These three elements make perfect the satisfaction of penance, which is well represented by the sixth hour, namely mid-day, around which time the householder went out to send workers to cultivate the vineyard. Note too that mid-day, when the sun shines hotter than at any other part of the day, denotes the fervour of satisfaction. So towards the end of Deuteronomy we find:
Nephtali shall enjoy abundance, and shall be full of the blessing of the Lord: he shall
possess the sea and the mid-day. (Dt 33,23)
Nephtali means ‘converted’ or ‘enlarged’, and signifies the penitent who is converted from his evil way and enlarged in good works. He shall be made fruitful in this life with the abundance of grace, and will be filled with the blessing of glory. In order to attain his reward he must first possess the ‘sea’ (bitterness of heart) and the ‘mid-day’ (fervour of satisfaction).
(A sermon on the love of God and neighbour: Let there be two lights. And note that from this text there can be drawn a sermon for the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Peter was the greater light, to rule the day, that is the Jews; Paul was the lesser light, to rule the night, that is the Gentiles.)
20. On the fourth day God said: Let there be two great lights in the firmament. The fourth virtue is the love of God and of neighbour: the love of God being signified by the brightness of the sun, and the love of neighbour by the changeableness of the moon. Does it not seem to you that there is a certain changeableness,
to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep? (Rm 12,15)
It is of these two things that there is said, towards the end of Deuteronomy,
The land of Joseph shall be filled with the fruits of the sun and the moon. (Dt 33,14)
These fruits stand for the works of the just man, on account of the gladness of perfection, the beauty of pure intention, and the sweet scent of good repute. These fruits are ‘of the sun and moon’, namely of the love of God and of neighbour, which are the two things that make anyone perfect. This twofold love is represented by the ninth hour, when the householder went forth. The perfection of these twin loves leads to the perfection of angelic blessedness, which is depicted in nine orders by the prophet Ezekiel under the image of nine precious stones, when he addresses Lucifer:
Every precious stone was thy covering:
the sardius, the topaz, and the jasper,
the chrysolyte, and the onyx and the beryl,
the sapphire, and the carbuncle and the emerald. (Ez 28,13)
(A sermon for contemplatives and on the property of the bird: Man is born to labour.)
21. On the fifth day God made the fishes in the sea and the birds above the earth. The
fifth virtue is the exercise of the active and the contemplative life. The active man, like a fish, traverses the paths of the sea (the world) so as to be able to come to the aid of his neighbour who suffers need. Meanwhile the contemplative, like a bird, is lifted into the air upon the wings of contemplation and according to his capacity gazes upon the King in his beauty (Is 33,17). As Job says,
Man is born to labour and the bird to fly. (Jb 5,7)
‘Labour’ is the active life, ‘flight’ the contemplative life. And note that just as the bird which has a wide breast, inasmuch as it holds much air, is driven back by the wind; and that which has a narrow and restricted breast flies faster and without difficulty, so the mind of the contemplative, if it is filled with many and varied thoughts, is greatly impeded in the flight of contemplation; whereas if it is unified and recollected it begins to fly and is made fruitful in the joy of its contemplation. The exercise of this two-fold life is represented by the eleventh hour, when the householder went forth. The eleventh hour is made up of one and ten. The contemplative life is ‘one’, because it regards one God and one joy; the active life is ‘ten’, a reference to the ten precepts of the Law, by which the active life itself is made fully perfect in this life of exile.
(A sermon on the two-fold glorification, namely of soul and body: There shall be month after month.)
22. On the sixth day God said: Let us make man to our own image and likeness. The sixth and last virtue of the soul is final perseverance, which is the tail of the sacrificial victim and the many coloured coat of Joseph. Without it the possession of the previous virtues is useless; with it their possession is profitable, and in it (as on the sixth day) the image and likeness of God is eternally imprinted upon the face of the soul. This image is never to be soiled, never obliterated, never defiled.
This Gospel evening is the last hour of human life, the hour wherein the householder, through the steward who is his Son, gives his wage to the good worker in the vineyard. By it is signified the sabbath, which is interpreted ‘rest’. It is to this that Isaiah refers when he says:
There shall be month alter month,
meaning the perfection of glory coming from the perfection of this life, and and sabbath after sabbath, (Is 66,23)
meaning eternal rest out of the rest of the heart, the double robe of soul and body.
The soul is glorified by three gifts, and the body by four. The soul is adorned with wisdom, friendship and concord. The wisdom of God is reflected in the face of the soul:
she will see God as he is, and she will know as she is known (cf. 1Jn 3,2 1Co 13,12). There will be friendship with God; whence Isaiah says:
Whose fire is in Zion, and a furnace in Jerusalem. (Is 31,9)
Zion is the Church militant, the furnace is most ardent love, and Jerusalem is the Church triumphant. There will be harmony with neighbours, over whose glory she will rejoice just as much as over her own. The gifts of the body will be four in number: brightness, subtlety, agility and immortality, of which the Book of Wisdom says:
The just shall shine, (brightness)
and like sparks in the straw (subtlety)
they shall run to and fro, (agility)
and their Lord shall reign for ever. (immortality) (Sg 3,7-8)
For he is God not of the dead but of the living (cf. Mt 22,32).
23. That we may deserve to receive this incorruptible crown, adorned with these seven precious stones, let us run as the Apostle bids us in today’s Epistle:
Know you not that they that run in the stadium all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery refraineth himself in all things. And they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. (1Co 9,24-25)
A stadium is the eighth part of a mile, and consists of one hundred and twenty five paces. It signifies the labour of this exile, in which we must run in unity of faith, with steps of love numbering one hundred and twenty five. In this number the whole perfection of divine love is represented. The ‘hundred’, the perfect number, is the Gospel teaching; the ‘twenty’ are the ten precepts of the Law, which are to be fulfilled both according to the letter and according to the spirit; the ‘five’ are to be understood as the restraint of the pleasures of the five senses. He who runs in this stadium receives the prize, namely the reward of an incorruptible crown, concerning which the Apocalypse says:
I will give you the crown of life, says the Lord. (Ap 2,10)
And so, dearest brethren, I pray and beseech that Lord with tears, that Lord who created and re-created us with his own blood; I pray that he may deign to establish us in the sevenfold eternal bliss. With him who is the Origin of all creatures, and by his grace, may we attain eternal life: who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.