Anthony_Sermons - (FIRST CLAUSE)
1 cf. GLOSSA ORDINARIA on Is 40.9
2 OVID, Epistolae ex Ponto II,3,53
3 GREGORY, Moralia IV, 18,34; PL 82.558
4 AUGUSTINE, Soliloquia II,1; PL 32.885
5 GUIGO THE CARTHUSIAN, Epistola ad fratres, I,15,46; PL 184.338
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury
(The Gospel for the first Sunday after the Nativity of the Lord: Joseph and Mary; which is divided into two clauses)
(First, the theme for a sermon on the grace and glory of Jesus Christ: Learn where is wisdom.)
1. At that time: Joseph and Mary the mother of Jesus were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. (Lc 2,33)
Learn where is wisdom, where is prudence, where is strength, where is understanding: that thou mayest know also where is length of life and nourishment, where is the light of the eyes and peace. (Ba 3,14)
It says in the Psalm:
The Lord will give grace and glory, (Ps 83,12)
grace in the present, glory in the future. The first four things mentioned in the previous text refer to grace, the other four to glory.
Wisdom is in the savouring of contemplation;
Prudence is in foreseeing dangers;
Strength is in bearing adversities;
Understanding is in rejecting evil and choosing good.
Length of days will belong to the saints in eternal blessedness (hence: I live, and you will live (Jn 14,19));
Nourishment will be in the fruition of joy
(hence: I dispose to you a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table (Lc 22,114));
Light of days will be in the vision of Christ’s glorified humanity
(hence: Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory, which thou hast given me (Jn 17,24));
Peace will be in the glorification of body and soul
(hence: Thou wilt keep peace: peace, because we have hoped in thee, O Lord (Is 26,3)). Of length of days and the light of the eyes, the Psalm says:
For with thee is the fountain of life; and in thy light we shall see light. (Ps 35,10)
Of peace and nourishment:
Who hath placed peace in thy borders: and filleth thee with the fat of corn. (Ps 147,14)
The ‘fat of corn’ is the fruition of joy in the humanity of Jesus Christ, by which the saints are satisfied.
Alternatively: Learn, O man, to love Jesus, and then you will learn where wisdom is, etc. He himself is wisdom; whence Proverbs:
Wisdom hath built herself a house, etc. (Pr 9,1)
He is prudence; whence Job:
His (the Father’s) prudence has struck the proud one (the devil). (Jb 26,12)
He is strength; whence:
He is the strength of God and the wisdom of God. (1Co 1,24)
In him is all understanding, to whose eyes All things are naked and open. (He 4,12)
He is life; he says:
I am the way, the truth and the life. (Jn 14,6)
He is nourishment, the bread of angels and refreshment of the just.
He is the light of the eyes; he says:
I am the light of the world. (Jn 8,12)
He is our peace, who hath made both one. (Ep 2,14)
Learn this wisdom, O man, that you may be wise;
this prudence, that you may take care of yourself;
this strength, that you may be strong;
this understanding, that you may know;
this nourishment, that you may not faint;
this light, that you may see;
this peace, that you may have rest.
O blessed Jesus, where may I seek you? Where may I find you? Where, when you are found, may I find so great a good? Seek, and you shall find. And where, pray, does it dwell? Where it lies hid at noon-day? (cf. Ct 1,6) Do you want to hear where? Say, I beseech you! You will find Jesus in the midst of Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna. That is why today’s Gospel says: There were Joseph and Mary, etc.
2. There are four persons presented in this Gospel, and so let us see what they signify morally. Joseph means ‘increasing’, Mary ‘star of the sea’, Simeon ‘hearing sadness’, and Anna ‘answering’. Joseph represents poverty, Mary humility, Simeon penitence, and Ann obedience. We will treat each of these in turn.
(On poverty: God hath made me to grow.)
3. Joseph means ‘increasing’ (Gn 49,22). When wretched man abounds in pleasure and expands in riches, he actually decreases, because he loses his freedom. Care for riches makes him a slave, and while he serves riches he shrinks down into himself. Unhappy soul, less than his own possessions! He is less, because he supposes himself to be for things, rather than things for him. This servile regard is recognised more clearly when he loses with sorrow what he possessed with joy. Such sorrow is a great slavery. What more? There is no freedom, save in voluntary poverty. This is Joseph who increases, who says in Genesis:
God hath made me to grow in the land of my poverty. (Gn 4,
In the land of my poverty, not of my abundance, God made me grow. In the former there is growth, in the latter decrease. So the second book of Kings speaks of:
David prospering and growing always stronger and stronger,
but the house of Saul decaying daily. (2S 3,1)
David, who says in the Psalm: I am a beggar and poor (Ps 39,18), went forward as a shining light and increased even to perfect day (Pr 4,18); and he became stronger in himself, as cheerful and voluntary poverty gave him strength. So Isaiah says:
The spirit of the mighty (i.e. poverty)
is like a whirlwind beating against a wall (i.e. riches). (Is 25,4)
Pleasures and riches waste and weaken. So Jeremiah says:
How long wilt thou be dissolute in delights, O wandering daughter? (Jr 31,22)
(On the wretchedness of riches: May the Lord afflict thee with want.)
The house of Saul (meaning ‘misusing’), of the rich men of this world who misuse the goods and gifts of the Lord in bodily pleasure, decreases daily. So Moses says in Deuteronomy:
May the Lord afflict thee with miserable want, with the fever and with cold, with burning and with heat,
and with corrupted air and with blasting: and pursue thee till thou perish. (Dt 28,22)
The Lord afflicts (that is, he allows to be afflicted) the rich man of this world with want, because he is always in need;
with fever, because he is tormented and saddened by others’ happiness;
with cold, for fear of losing what he has gained;
with the heat of greed, the corrupt air of ill-repute, and the blight of lust.
See how the house of Saul decays! The house of David, however, poor and needy, grows from strength to strength in the land of his poverty.
(On humility, the damnation of the proud and the exaltation of the humble: God looked through the pillar of cloud.)
4. There follows, regarding humility, Mary, ‘star of the sea’. O humility! Radiant star that enlightens the night and guides us to harbour, "like a glittering flame that shows forth God the King of kings," who says:
Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart. (Mt 11,29)
Whoever lacks this star is groping blindly (2P 1,9). His ship is wrecked by the storm, and he himself sinks beneath the waves. So in Exodus:
The Lord, looking upon the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and cloud, slew their host; and overthrew the wheels of the chariots, and they were carried into the deep. But the children of Israel marched through the midst of the sea upon dry land: and the waters were to them as a wall on the right hand and on the left. (Ex 14,24-25,29)
The Egyptians, overshadowed by the dark cloud, stand for the rich and powerful of this world, clouded by the darkness of pride. The Lord will slay them, overthrowing the wheels of their chariots- their dignities and glory around which the four seasons of the year turn for them- and drowning them in the depths of hell. But the children of Israel, enlightened by the fiery splendour, stand for the penitent and poor in spirit, enlightened by the splendour of humility. They pass dry-shod through the sea of this world, whose waters and bitter floods are for them like a wall which strengthens and defends them against prosperity on the right and adversity on the left, so that they are not elated by popular favour, nor yet cast down by the temptations of the flesh.
Deuteronomy says of them: They shall suck as milk the abundance of the sea (Dt 33,19).
To suck, one must compress the lips. The man whose mouth gapes open for monetary gain, for the service of vainglory, or for popular acclaim: such a one cannot suck the abundance of the sea. How hard it is to separate wolves from a corpse, ants from a seed, flies from honey, moths from wine, harlots from their prostitution or traders from the market place! Solomon likewise says in Proverbs:
A young man according to his way,
even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Pr 22,6)
Only the humble, who compress their lips from the love of temporal things, can suck as milk the abundance of the sea.
O star of the sea! O humility of heart! It changes the bitter and fearful sea into sweet and soothing milk! How sweet is that bitterness to the humble! How light is tribulation! They bear it for Jesus’ name. To Stephen the stones were sweet, to Lawrence the gridiron, to Vincent the coals of fire. For Jesus, they sucked as milk the abundance of the sea.
The word ‘suck’ also suggests eagerness and delight. Only humility knows how to suck tribulation and sorrow with eagerness of spirit and delight. So we read in Canticles:
Who shall give thee to me for my brother,
sucking the breasts of my mother? (Ct 8,1)
Three persons are implied: mother, sister and brother. The mother is penitence, whose two breasts are sorrow in contrition and tribulation in satisfaction. The sister is poverty, the brother is the spirit of humility. Sister Poverty says, then: Who shall give you to me for my brother, spirit of humility? That with eagerness you may suck the breasts of our mother? Behold the brother and sister, Joseph and Mary, bridegroom and bride, poverty and humility. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom (Jn 3,29). Blessed is that poverty which weds humility as its bride.
(On the useful sadness of penitents: A sorrowful spirit.)
5. There follows, regarding the sorrow of penitence, Simeon (‘hearing sorrow’). The Apostle says of this:
The sorrow that is according to God worketh salvation. (2Co 7,10)
A sorrowful spirit drieth up the bones, (Pr 17,22)
(namely, from the fatness of wantonness and impudence). So Job says:
He rebuketh also by sorrow in the bed;
and he maketh all his bones to wither.
Bread becometh abominable to him in his life,
and to his soul the meat which before he desired. (Jb 33,19-20)
The ‘bed’ is the pleasure of the flesh, in which the soul lies like a paralytic, enfeebled in all his limbs. So it says in Matthew:
They brought to him one sick of the palsy lying in a bed. (Mt 9,2)
The Lord ‘rebukes by sorrow in a bed’ when he induces sorrow for sins in the soul, as it takes its ease in the pleasures of the flesh; and it then has the sorrow that ‘makes all its bones to wither’.
This is what Daniel said when he beheld the vision:
There remained no strength in me,
and the appearance of my countenance was changed to me, and I fainted away and retained no strength. (Da 10,8)
When this happens to someone, ‘bread’ (the pleasure of the flesh) ‘becomes abominable in his life’, and ‘the meat which was formerly desirable’ to his soul (his animal nature). Thus Daniel says:
I ate no desirable bread, and neither flesh nor wine entered my mouth; neither was I anointed with ointment. (Da 10,3)
The heart that knoweth the bitterness of his own soul, in his joy the stranger shall not intermeddle. (Pr 14,10)
Where the myrrh of sorrow is present, the worm of lust will not insinuate itself. So Isaiah says;
Depart from me, I will weep bitterly.
Labour not to comfort me, for the devastation of the daughter of my people. (Is 22,4)
This the way the penitent should speak to the unclean spirits: Depart from me, I will weep bitterly. Just as smoke drives out bees, so bitter and tearful compunction drives out the demons which stand around the soul like bees round a honeycomb. .And labour not to comfort me, you carnal affections, because as Job says:
You are all troublesome comforters. (Jb 16,2)
My soul refused to be comforted with your comfort (Ps 76,3). Your comforts (yours, Lord, not mine; for: Woe to you who have your consolation (Lc 6,24)) have given joy to my soul (Ps 93,19). So labour not to comfort me for the devastation (the affliction) of the daughter (the flesh) of my people (the crowd of the five senses, of which the Psalm says: Who subdueth my people under me (Ps 143,2)).
(On obedience: Speak, Lord.)
6. There follows, regarding obedience, Anna (‘answering’). She answers with Samuel: Speak. Lord, for thy servant heareth (1S 3,10); and with Isaiah: Here I am, send me (Is 6,8); and with Saul: Lord, what would you have me do? (Ac 9,6). Ecclesiasticus says:
A mild answerbreaketh wrath; (Pr 15,1) and:
A gracious tongue in a good man aboundeth. (Si 6,5)
The mild answer of the humble subject breaks the wrath of the proud prelate. Whence, in Proverbs:
By patience (of the subject) a prince shall be appeased. (Pr 25,5)
Do not strive against the stream of the river, (Si 4,32)
(meaning the will of a prelate), but:
Bow thy head to a great man. (Si 4,32)
The gracious tongue will abound in the good man who is subject, so that he may say with Job:
Thou shalt call me, and I will answer thee. (Jb 14,15)
He answers the one who calls him, when he obeys from the heart the one who commands.
See then how we have taken a brief foretaste from these four virtues, so that whoever wishes to find Jesus should have these persons with him, because salvation rests in their midst. Joseph and Mary carried Jesus to the temple, Simeon and Anna confessed and blessed him. Poverty and humility bear the poor and humble Jesus. Poverty carries him on its shoulders.
(For penitents and religious: Issachar shall be a strong ass.)
7. So it says In Genesis:
Issachar shall be a strong ass lying down in the borders. He saw rest that it was good; and the land that it was excellent, and he bowed his shoulders to carry. (Gn 49,14-15)
Issachar means ‘reward’, and represents poverty, which abandons all temporal things so as to receive an eternal reward. He is called ‘a strong ass’, the ass being a beast of burden which eats rough and lowly food. Poverty, too, bears the burden and heat of the day (Mt 20,12), and uses what is rough and raw. St Bernard says: "Bread made of bran and pure water, together with herbs and plain vegetables, is by no means appetising; but in the love of Christ, and in the desire of inward satisfaction, it is pleasant enough to a well-disciplined digestion that is able to be satisfied with these things and give thanks for the. How many thousands of poor folk there are, who in the course of nature are satisfied with these, or even some of these! How easy and delightful it would be, with the condiment of God’s love, to live according to nature: if only our folly would let us!"
There follows: He lies down in the borders (rather than ‘between the borders’). There are two borders, the entrance to and exit from our life. In these, poverty lies down and rests.
It considers how poor is man’s entry, and is present at his lowly departure. It does not want (as the book of Judges says)
to lie down between the borders, to hear the bleatings of the flock, (Jg 5,16)
the persuasive suggestions of the demons. He dwells or lies down ‘between the borders’ who pays no heed to the beginning or end of his life, but takes his rest in the pleasures of the flesh and the vanity of the world.
There follows: He saw rest (heavenly blessedness) that it was good; and the land (eternal stability) that it was excellent, and he bowed his shoulders to carry- to carry the poor Jesus, the Son of God. He ‘carries’ Jesus who, for love of him, bears patiently all the adverse things that happen to him. So Ecclesiasticus says:
Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure. (Si 2,4)
In this way poverty bears ‘on its shoulders’, while humility bears at the breast and in the arms. So Canticles says:
A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me: he shall abide between my breasts. (Ct 1,12)
The word used is a diminutive: ‘a little bundle’, meaning humility. Myrrh represents the bitterness of the Lord’s Passion. The heart lies between the breasts, so it as if the humble Bride would say, "I carry my beloved Jesus in my heart, a bundle of myrrh humble and crucified, so that I may be humble in heart, and my body fastened with him to the Cross." Thus poverty and humility carry Jesus to the temple, that is to say, until they come to the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem, not made with hands.
Again, penitence and obedience confess and bless. The Psalm says:
Praise and beauty are before him, (Ps 95,6)
like a penitent whose beauty is in his confession. Confession cleanses the leper of sin, and adorns him with the grace of the Holy Spirit. So the Psalm says:
Thou hast put on praise and beauty: (Ps 103,2)
that is, penitents who are cleansed by confession and adorned with grace. There follows: Holiness and majesty in his sanctuary, (Ps 95,6)
like an obedient man whom the Lord sanctifies with holiness of conscience in the mortification of his self-will, and with majesty of life in the carrying out of another’s will. Behold where the King of virtues dwells! Have these virtues, then, and you will find the wisdom of God and the virtue of God: Jesus-
Whom, beloved brothers, let us humbly implore to build, with these four pillars, the house of our way of life; so that he may dwell with us and we with him. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
(The theme for a sermon on pride and humility of heart: He hath put down the mighty.)
8. Simeon said to Mary his mother: Behold, this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel. (Lc 2,34)
Blessed Mary says in her canticle:
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble and meek. (Lc 1,52)
‘He hath put down’: that is, he has thrust downwards. The Lord says in the prophet Obadiah:
The pride of thy heart hath lifted thee up,
who dwellest in the clefts of the rock and setteth up thy throne on high, who sayest in thy heart: Who shall bring me down to the ground?
Though thou be exalted as an eagle and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord. (Ab 1,3-4)
(see the Gospel: A sower went forth to sow his seed (Sexagesima), and the Gospel: A blind man sat by the way (Quinquagesima).)
So: He hath put down the mighty. This is what is said in Daniel:
Behold, a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven,
and cried aloud, and said thus:
Cut down the tree and chop off the branches thereof:
shake off its leaves and scatter its fruits. (Da 4,10-11)
The great tree stands for the mighty of this world who, as Job says:
hath stretched out his hand against God,
and hath strengthened himself against the Almighty. (Jb 15,25)
He is cut down by certain death, he is dragged down to hell, and there his ‘branches’ (the might of his parents, the nobility of his birth of which he used to brag and boast) are chopped off. His ‘leaves’ (the windy words of pride) are shaken off; and the ‘fruits’ of riches and pleasure, which he amassed to his own harm, are scattered.
Thus has he brought down the mighty from their seat; and he has exalted the humble. This is what Job says:
He comforteth with health those that mourn. (Jb 5,11)
When thou shalt think thyself consumed, thou shalt rise as the daystar.
And thou shalt have confidence, hope being set before thee. (Jb 11,17-18)
He brought proud Haman low, and raised up humble Mardochaeus. The former fell from his seat, the latter rose in his place. Well, then, does blessed Mary say: He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. That is why Simeon says to her, of her Son: Behold, this child is set for the fall of many, etc. He himself says, in John:
For judgement I am come into this world; that they who see not may see; and they who see may become blind. (Jn 9,39)
Isaiah says of this fall:
Jerusalem is ruined, and Juda is fallen: because their tongue (which cried: Crucify him, crucify him! (Jn 19,6))
and their schemes (He said: I can destroy this temple made with hands, etc. (Mt 26,61)) are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his majesty. (Is 3,8)
(On the useful ruin for converted sinners: The destruction of the horse.)
9. Morally. Ecclesiasticus says:
Turn the wicked and he (the wicked man) shall not be. (Pr 12,7)
Saul the persecutor fell, Paul the preacher arose. This, then, is: Behold, he is set for the fall of sinners. Zechariah speaks of:
The destruction of the horse and of the mule and of the camel and of the ass and of all the beasts. (Za 14,15)
The horse is pride, as Jeremiah says:
They are all turned to their own course, as a horse rushing to the battle. (Jr 8,6)
The mule is lust, as the Psalm says:
Do not become like the horse and the mule. (Ps 31,9)
The camel is avarice; so that the camel (the avaricious man) cannot pass through the eye of the needle (the poverty of Jesus Christ) (cf. Mt 19,24).
The ass is laziness, the sump of all vices. The ass avoids high ground, and laziness will not aspire to the heights, but looks for easy ways to go. Thus Abraham told his servants: Stay you here with the ass. (Gn 22,5)
The servants are childish and carnal affections, which remain with the ass of slackness and slowness.
The beasts represent delight in the pleasures of the five senses, of which Isaiah says: The burden of the beasts of the south.
In a land of trouble and distress,
from whence come the lioness and the lion, the viper and the flying basilisk. (Is 30,6)
The ‘land’ is the flesh, which brings forth for us the thorns of trouble and the thistles of sorrow. This is ‘the burden of the beasts’, the five senses. They are ‘beasts of the south’, worldly joys. In this land of trouble and sorrow, which the beasts trample and drop their dung on, there are the lioness of lust, the lion of pride, the viper of wrath and the flying basilisk of envy and vainglory.
O Lord Jesus, let all these beasts and cattle be destroyed, that the beast-like sinner may likewise fall and, having fallen, rise again as a spiritual man. Let us say, then: Behold, he is set for a fall.
(On the resurrection of the soul from sin: The hand of the Lord was upon me; and
on the nature of sinews.)
10. There follows: And for the resurrection of many. There is a concordance to this in Ezekiel:
The hand of the Lord was upon me and brought me forth into a plain that was full of bones... Now they were very many... and they were exceeding dry... And he said to me: Son of man, prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord... Behold, I will send spirit into you and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you and will cause flesh to grow over you and will cover you with skin.
The ‘dry bones’ are sinners, parched of the moisture of grace, whose heart is withered, because they forgot to eat their bread (Ps 101,5), which contained all that is delicious and the sweetness of every taste (Sg 16,20). Job says, regarding them:
The bones of Behemoth are like pipes of brass. (Jb 40,13)
They are perverse in malice, hard as the devil’s bones, because they support what is carnal as bones support the flesh. They are like pipes of brass, because like brass they repel the arrows of preaching, and when struck send out an echoing sound. They confess Christ in words (like a pipe), but deny him by their deeds (the hardness of bronze).
But because the mercy of Christ himself is greater than the dryness and hardness of the bones, he adds: And I will put spirit into you, and you will live, etc. Note these four things: ‘spirit’, ‘sinews’, ‘flesh’ and ‘skin’. The ‘spirit’ represents the inspiration of prevenient grace, the ‘sinews’ the joining together of good intentions, the ‘flesh’ compassion towards one’s neighbour, and the ‘skin’ the extension of final perseverance. I will put spirit into you, and you will live; just as Genesis says: He breathed into his face the breath of life (Gn 2,7). (See the Gospel: Jesus was led into the desert (Lent I).) 11
11. And I will lay sinews upon you. There are many sinews in the hands and the feet, and around the ribs and shoulders; and the bones which are connected to one another are bound with sinew. Round them is a certain moistness, from which they grow and derive nourishment. When the Lord sends the spirit of grace into a sinner, the moisture of compunction arises in his heart, and from this the sinews of good impulses and good will grow and are nourished, so joining together and binding the whole body of good works.
And I will make flesh to grow. The same prophet says:
I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh,
and will give you a heart of flesh, (Ez 36,26)
which, when pierced, grieves with compassion for the neighbour, because He is our flesh and our brother (Gn 37,27). O stony heart, which will not be moved by compassion for neighbour! Which says: Am I my brother’s keeper? (Gn 4,9) You shall learn that in keeping him there is great reward (Ps 18,12). The first book of Kings tells how Nabal’s heart died within him, and he became as a stone (1S 25,37). He would have no compassion on David, would not give him anything from his store, but only hurled abuse at him, saying:
Who is David? And what is the son of Isai? Servants are multiplied nowadays, who flee from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water, and the flesh of my cattle, which I have killed for my shearers, and give them to men whom I know not whence they are? (1S 25,10-11)
Nowadays, the avaricious and usurious, with their stony hearts, say these and similar things to the poor of Jesus Christ.
And I will cover you with skin. The covering of skin is final perseverance. The Lord says: You are those who have remained with me in my trials- (Lc 22,28) but woe to those who lack perseverance! Job says:
My skin is withered and drawn together. (Jb 7,5)
The skin withers and contracts when it is stripped of the good works of final perseverance. Thus:
In the end of a man is the disclosing of his works. (Si 11,29)
Then his baseness will be apparent.
This foreshadows the way the Lord gives life to the dry bones, he who >is set for the resurrection of many.
12. There follows: And a sign which shall be contradicted. Matthew says:
Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. (Mt 24,30)
Upon the dark mountain lift ye up a banner.
Exalt the voice, lift up the hand. (Is 13,2)
The ‘dark mountain’ is the devil: a mountain because of his pride, and dark because of the darkness of temptation that he brings upon the mind. Preachers ‘lift up a banner’ upon him when they preach that he is conquered by the power of the Cross. They ‘exalt their voices’ when they argue in season, our of season, reprove and entreat (2Tm 4,2). They ‘lift up their hand’ when they practise what they preach.
Again, the Lord says of this sign, in Ezekiel:
Mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof. (Ez 9,4)
Only these do not contradict the sign of the Lord’s Passion which they bear upon their foreheads. Who are the people that sigh and mourn, if not the penitent and the poor in spirit, who glory in the Cross of Christ, and sigh and mourn for the abominations committed in the world? Those who are faithless contradict in word and deed. So the Apostle says:
We preach Christ crucified; unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness. (1Co 1,23)
Woe unto him that gainsayeth his maker, a shard of the earthen pots! (Is 45,9)
(The Latin contains a reference to ‘Samian ware’, from Samos where the art of pottery was practised.) The baked pot is the false Christian, hard from lack of devotion yet fragile in deed, a thing of clay. He contradicts his maker, Christ who formed him with hands nailed to the Cross; and even though he should not stand by him, he restored him to his first dignity. Why then does such a wretch contradict his maker and redeemer by the testimony of an evil life?
(Against the lovers of temporal things: I spread forth my hands.)
13. Therefore he complains in Isaiah:
I have spread forth my hands all the day to an unbelieving people, who walk in a way that is not good, alter their own thoughts.
A people that continually provoke me to anger before my face:
that immolate in gardens and sacrifice upon bricks:
that dwell in sepulchres and sleep in the temples of idols:
that eat swine’s flesh and profane broth in their vessels. (Is 65,2-4)
I have spread forth: like a generous benefactor who denies nothing to those who ask; as Proverbs says:
I stretched out my hand, and there was none that regarded. (Pr 1,24)
In the first Advent the Lord’s hand was spread out; but in the second it will be closed, and he will strike with his fist, and:
He shall break the grinders of the lions. (Ps 57,7)
I have spread forth my hands: upon the Cross. So Canticles says:
His hands are turned and as of gold, full of hyacinths. (Ct 5,14)
The hands of Christ are said to be ‘turned’, from the torture of the Passion when they were pierced with nails as on a carpenter’s bench. They are ‘of gold’ because of the purity of his work; and ‘full of hyacinths’, the rewards of eternal life. Of these, the thief received the first hyacinth when he heard: Today you will be with me in paradise (Lc 23,24).
He says: All the day; and night, because when the day of worldly prosperity smiles upon us, then we should be mindful of the death of Jesus Christ. Thus it is said that the sun was darkened at his death (Lc 23,45). The sun of worldly glory should be darkened for us in the memory of the Lord’s Passion.
He says: I spread forth... to an unbelieving people. Isaiah says:
He that is unfaithful dealeth unfaithfully. (Is 21,2)
St Augustine says, "To believe in God is to love God, and go into him, and be incorporated with his members." Whoever does not do this is lying when he says, "I believe in God." The unfaithful man is one who does not believe in this way, and so deals unfaithfully. His faith is dead, because it lacks charity.
Who walk in a way that is not good; the wide and spacious way, that leads to death (cf.
Mt 7.13). There is something similar in Proverbs:
A man that is an apostate, an unprofitable man, walketh with a perverse mouth.
He winketh with the eyes, presseth with the foot, speaketh with the finger. (Pr 6,12-13) After their own thoughts: of which the book of Wisdom says:
Perverse thoughts separate from God. (Sg 1,3) and:
The Holy Spirit... will withdraw himself from the thoughts that are without understanding. (Sg 1,5)
A people that provoke me to anger (that is, to anger, by their continual sinning.) Zephaniah says:
Woe to the provoking and redeemed city. (So 3,1)
This is as if to say, "They provoke me to wrath, whom I redeemed with my blood."
Before my face continually: that is, openly- which is even worse. Isaiah says:
They have proclaimed abroad their sin as Sodom, and they have not hid it. (Is 3,9)
That immolate in gardens: a reference to lust; whence Isaiah says:
You shall be ashamed of the gardens (the places of pleasure) which you have chosen (by your lust). (Is 1,29)
And sacrifice upon bricks: a reference to avarice. Whence Exodus says:
Straw shall nor be given you: and you shall deliver the accustomed number of bricks. (Ex 5,18)
Time after time it happens that the straw of riches is taken away from the avaricious and usurers, and yet they continue to deliver to the devil the bricks of avarice, at least in will and word. Alternatively, those who ‘sacrifice upon bricks’ are those who perform the Divine Office to the Lord by the fireside, or in bed, or in some such manner.
That dwell in sepulchres: a reference to detraction:
Their throat is an open sepulchre, etc. (Ps 13,3)
And sleep in the temples of idols: meaning hypocrisy, which assumes the appearance of
religion, as an idol does, but is lacking in truth and reality. Alas! How many idol- worshippers there are today, praying to an image which only pretends to a holiness which is foreign to it.
That eat swine’s flesh, in the defilement of gluttony; and profane broth in their vessels: that is, in their hearts, a reference to unclean thoughts. Those who do all these things contradict the sign of the Lord’s Passion.
(On the two-fold giving birth of blessed Mary: Before she was in labour, and on her Son’s Passion: Remember my poverty.)
14. There follows: And thy own soul a sword shall pierce. (Lc 2,35)
The grief that blessed Mary endured in the Passion of her Son was like a sword that pierced her soul. As Isaiah says:
Before she was in labour, she brought forth. (Is 66,7)
Blessed Mary’s childbearing was twofold- in the flesh and in the spirit. The physical birth was virginal and full of joy, because the Virgin bore the joy of the angels without pain, saying with Sarah:
God hath made a laughter for me. Whosoever shall hear of it will laugh with me. (Gn 21,6)
We should laugh and rejoice together with blessed Mary in the birth of her Son; we should also sorrow with her in his Passion, the sword of which pierced her soul. Then was the second birth, grievous and full of all bitterness. No wonder, when she saw the Son of God (whom by the action of the Holy Spirit she had conceived as a virgin, and bore as a virgin) nailed to the wood and hanging between thieves! What wonder that a sword pierced her soul!
Attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow. (Lm 1,12)
Before she was in labour in the Passion, she brought forth in the Nativity.
15. Morally. In Lamentations, Jeremiah speaks to the Father in the person of Christ:
Remember my poverty and transgression: the wormwood and the gall. (Lm 3,19)
The Passion of Christ is called a ‘transgression’ inasmuch as it surpassed the sorrow and suffering of all the martyrs. Thus St Luke says that Moses and Elias spoke of the ‘departure’, his Passion, exceeding every suffering- which he should accomplish in Jerusalem (Lc 9,31). When the just man beholds this, he immediately adds what follows
I will be mindful and remember: and my soul shall languish within me. (Lm 3,20)
O Son of God, I will be mindful and remember (the redoubling of the words expresses the depth of the speaker’s emotion) thy poverty, which was so great that in death you had no winding-sheet to wrap you, no tomb to be buried in, if it had not been granted you as a poor beggar by the care of mercy and almsgiving; and thy transgression, the Passion which exceeded all human sorrow. So John says:
Jesus went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron. (Jn 18,1)
The word means ‘bitter grief’. In the Passion all grief and bitterness were exceeded. All the martyrs, before they underwent their passion, were ignorant of the magnitude of suffering that would be involved, and so suffered less than if they had known. But the Lord, who knew everything beforehand, knew entirely (even before reaching his Passion) the force of the pain; and so it is no wonder that he suffered more than all others. The wormwood and the gall: of which the Psalm says:
And they gave me gall for my food, (Ps 68,22)
said to have been ox-gall, the bitterest of all. When I remember this, my soul languishes within me as the sword of your Passion pierces it.
When this happens, as the text goes on, the thoughts of many hearts are revealed (Lk
2.35). This is what Job says:
He discovereth deep things out of darkness,
and bringeth up to light the shadow of death. (Jb 12,22)
When the Lord pierces the soul with the sword of his Passion, then he uncovers deep things out of darkness, those vices which are far from ever finding satisfaction (for they never say: Enough! but always, Bring, bring (cf. Pr 30,15)); that is, he turns blindness of mind into contrition of heart, so that a man may first know and then reveal them in confession- the meaning of the further words, and bringeth up to light (confession) the shadow of death (mortal sin).
(On the four seasons of the year and their significance: When the fulness of time was come.)
16. The following part of today’s Epistle is concordant to this clause: When the fulness of time was come (Ga 4,4). For indeed there is a time for every business (Qo 8,6); and if a wise man will hold his peace until he see opportunity (Si 20,7), then it is
probable that God, in the business of human salvation and the sending forth of his Word, would observe a suitable time. Note that there are four seasons in the year: winter, spring, summer and autumn. From Adam to Moses it was, as it were, winter:
Death reigned from Adam to Moses. (Rm 5,14)
The period from Moses to Christ was spring. In this spring-time the flowers began to bud, promising fruit. When summer came, the fulness of time when the trees are replete with fruit, then:
God sent his Son, made of a woman. (Ga 4,4)
There is a concordance to this in Leviticus:
I will give you rain in due season,
and the ground shall bring forth its increase, and the trees shall be filled with fruit.
The threshing of your harvest shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and you shall eat your bread to the full. (Lv 26,3-5)
The Lord gave rain, like dew upon the ground and rain upon the fleece (cf. Jg 6,4)), when at the angel’s message the Virgin conceived the Son of God. The earth brought forth its increase when the Virgin herself brought forth the Saviour of the world, at whose preaching and miraculous works ‘the trees’ (the Apostles) were filled with all the fruits of virtue. And ‘the threshing of the harvest’, the Lord’s Passion in which he was afflicted for our sins (Is 53,5), reached ‘the vintage’, the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit by which the Apostles were inebriated; for the crowd
"... mocked, as overcome with wine, those who were filled with power divine."
And the vintage reached the ‘sowing time’, their preaching; for they immediately began to preach and say:
Do penance; and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ. (Ac 2,38)
Autumn will come in heavenly blessedness, wherein the saints will eat their bread to the full, and will sit (as Micah says):
Every man... under his vine and under his fig-tree,
and there shall be none to make them afraid. (Mi 4,4)
There follows: Made under the Law, (Ga 4,4)
that is, subject to the observances of the Law; he said: I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil. (Mt 5,17)
that he might redeem those who were under the Law;
There is something similar in the Epistle to the Hebrews:
That, through death, he might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil; and might deliver them who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to servitude. (He 2,14-15)
Here you can see plainly how he was set for the downfall of the devils and the resurrection of many; so there follows:
that we might receive the adoption of sons.
What grace! He adopted slaves as sons!
And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ. (Rm 8,17)
(On the Annunciation or the Nativity of the Lord: When all things were in deep silence.)
17. The Introit of today’s Mass is concordant to this part of the Epistle:
While all things were in mid-silence,
and the night was in the midst of her course,
thy almighty Word leapt down from thy royal throne,
as a fierce conqueror into midst of the land of destruction,
a sharp sword carrying thy unfeigned commandment.
And he stood and filled all things with death:
and standing on the earth reached even to heaven. (Sg 18,14-16)
This is the literal text in the book of Wisdom: When all things were in quiet silence.
This is what the Lord says in Luke:
When a strong man armed (i.e. the devil)
keepeth his court (the world, or hell)
those things are in peace which he possesseth. (Lc 11,21)
Thus Sennacherib (an image of the devil himself) says in Isaiah:
My hand hath found the strength of the people as a nest (how the weak guard themselves);
and as eggs are gathered that are left (by their mother) so have I gathered all the earth.
And there was none that moved the wing (raised a hand against me), or opened the mouth, or made the least noise. (Is 10,14)
This is how quiet silence held all things.
And the night was in the midst of her course.
‘Midst’ is relative to extremes, the extreme points of night being dusk and dawn. From Adam to the Law was, as it were, dusk. >From the Law to the Annunciation of blessed Mary was, as it were, the middle of the night, as regards disobedience to the Law.
Neither Adam in paradise nor the people in the desert kept the Law; they were all overshadowed by the darkness of this night, and so they needed the benefit of the Lord’s coming, which began with the angelic salutation. The beginning of night was when the devil, in the serpent, tempted Eve; the beginning of day was the angel’s greeting to Mary. And then, Father, thy almighty Word (the Son consubstantial with you) leapt down from thy royal throne, the bosom of your majesty. As St John says:
The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (Jn 1,18)
As a fierce conqueror.
This is what is said in Luke:
But if a stronger than he come upon him. Lk 11.22)
He who came to break the gates of brass and burst the fetters of iron (Ps 106,16), must without a doubt be a ‘fierce conqueror’. In Job, the Lord says of the devil that;
He shall esteem iron a straw and brass as rotten wood.
The archer shall not put him to flight;
the stones of the sling are to him like stubble.
As stubble will he esteem the hammer,
and he will laugh him to scorn who shaketh the spear. (Jb 41,18-20)
He was made to fear no-one. (Jb 41,24)
It was only right, then, that there should be a fierce conqueror, over whom he had no power, to come and despoil him.
Into the midst of the land (‘middle earth’, between heaven and hell) of destruction (destroyed by the devil, placed outside the bounds of eternal life).
Isaiah says of him:
Is this the man that troubled the earth, that shook kingdoms,
that made the world a wilderness and destroyed the cities thereof? (Is 14,17)
He leapt down (upon the two feet of divinity and humanity).
A sharp sword.
The Apostle says this:
The word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword. (He 4,12)
This sword is the divinity, hidden in the sheath of humanity, for Isaiah says:
Verily thou art a hidden God, the God of Israel, the Saviour. (Is 45,15)
The devil, who destroyed the earth, was run through by this sword; so that as Isaiah says:
The dust is at an end; the wretch is consumed; he hath failed, that trod the earth under foot. (Is 16,4)
18. Carrying thy unfeigned commandment.
John says: The Father hath given everything into his hand (Jn 13,3); and again: All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine (Jn 16,15); and: All my things are thine, and thine are mine (Jn 17,10). He carried, then, the commandment of the Father who gave him power over all flesh (cf. Jn 17,2), and his power is an everlasting power (Da 7,14), who commandeth both the winds and the sea and they obey him (Lc 8,25). Carrying an unfeigned commandment; for as Mark says:
He was teaching as one having power, and not as the scribes, (Mc 1,22) who taught hypocritically and insincerely. And in Luke:
What word is this, for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they go out? (Lc 4,36)
And he stood and filled all things with death:
He stood with arms outstretched on the Cross, and by his death filled all things that had been emptied by the disobedience of our first parents: of whose fulness we have all received (Jn 1,16).
And standing on the earth (meaning his humanity) reached even to heaven (the divine nature, that wisdom which reacheth from end to end mightily (Wisd8.1)). He says in John:
No man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man, who is in heaven. (Jn 3,13)
Job says of him:
He is higher than the heavens, and what wilt thou do?
He is deeper than hell, and how wilt thou know?
The measure of him is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. (Jb 11,8-9)
Let us humbly beg him, beloved brothers, to make us die to sin and rise to virtue; to pierce our souls with the sword of his Passion, whereby we may be found fit to gain the joy of the general Resurrection. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
(A moral sermon on penitence: When all things were in quiet silence.)
19. When all things were in quiet silence.
This may be expounded morally. Job says of the devil:
He sleepeth under the shadow, in the covert of the reed, and in moist places. (Jb 40,16)
The ‘shadow’ refers to pride, which is called the shadow of death, or of the devil. Just as a shadow follows the body, so pride follows the devil. Thus it says in the Apocalypse:
And behold a pale horse; and he that sat upon him, his name was Death. And hell followed him. (Ap 6,8)
Behold horse, rider and shield-bearer. The ‘pale horse’ is the hypocrite; his rider, called Death, is the devil; the squire is hell, that is, pride, who feeds the horse with barley and water- austerity and abstinence- so that he may be seen by men to fast (Mt 6,16). He saddles it with a feigned humility, and curbs it with the bit of silence; for as Solomon says:
Even a fool, if he will hold his peace, shall be accounted wise, (Pr 17,28)
and in the same way, a hypocrite is counted holy. Death mounts this horse and rides through the world, hunting praise- salutations in the market-place, seats in the synagogue and the first places at banquets (Mt 23,6-7). There is no pride greater than that of a hypocrite, for "A pretended righteousness is no righteousness at all, but a double wickedness" The ‘reed’ (which ‘rushes’ to ruin!) is avarice; whose hollowness, which never says "Enough!", ruin follows. The ‘moist places’ represent gluttony and lust. Moistness is the source of corruption, generating worms and the like. The devil ‘sleeps’ or takes his rest in the proud, the avaricious and the lustful; and then ‘quiet silence’ envelops all their members. The heart utters no good thoughts, the tongue no praise of God, the hand no good deeds. Isaiah says:
Woe is me, because I have held my peace. (Is 6,5)
In such a silence there is the woe of eternal damnation.
And the night was in the midst of her course.
Night, which blinds the eyes, represents mortal sin which obscures the light of reason.
He who walks in the night, stumbleth (cf. Jn 11,10). The extremes of this night, its dusk and dawn, are the consent of the blinded mind and the infusion of grace. Between these are the act and habit of sin. It is of this ‘mid-course’ that the Psalmist says:
The way of the wicked shall perish. (Ps 1,6)
This happens when the almighty Word leaps down: the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is appropriately called an ‘almighty word’. It is ‘almighty’ because it is able to break down every obstacle to salvation; it is a ‘word’ because it implants virtues in the mind, preserving the mind and healing it of sin. So the book of Wisdom says:
It was neither herb (riches which dry up quickly) nor mollifying plaster, that healed them:
but thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things. (Sg 16,12)
From thy royal throne, of divine kindness and mercy. Whence Joel:
Turn to the Lord your God; for he is gracious and merciful. (Jl 2,13)
20. As a fierce conqueror, in contrition. Grace is called a fierce conqueror because it beats like a hammer upon the hardness of the heart:
Are not my words as a fire... and as a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jr 23,29)
Into the midst of the land: meaning the mind of the sinner, called ‘land’ or ‘earth’ because it savours earthly things; the ‘midst’, because it is set between mercy and justice. So John tells how:
Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst, (Jn 8,9) that is, between mercy and justice.
Of destruction. The entrance and the exit of our life are its two terms or boundaries.
When the human mind does not dwell within them, when it does not think about them, then it is cast out of its bounds and is ex-terminated. Isaiah says:
The cry is gone round about the border of Moab, (Is 15,8)
meaning the sinner, whose two boundaries are marked by crying. When he comes into the world he cries and weeps, when he leaves it his family weeps for him. So
The mourners shall go round about in the street. (Qo 12,5)
There follows: A sharp sword, in confession. Grace is like a sharp sword, when it sharpens the tongue of the sinner in confession, so that he can say with Isaiah:
He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword, (Is 49,2)
of which the Lord says in Ezekiel:
And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife that shaveth the hair: and cause it to pass over thy head and thy beard. (Ez 5,1)
With the sword of confession the sinner should shave his ‘head’ (his mind) so that no sin remains on his conscience; and his ‘beard’ (the strength of good works) so that he does not trust in himself, but in the Lord from whom all good comes.
So there follows: Carrying thy unfeigned commandment. True confession knows no pretence. It brings to light the truth of conscience, in the sight of the Almighty and of one’s confessor. Then it bears the unfeigned commandment of the Lord. Note that there are four enemies of confession: love of sin, shame of confessing, fear of penance and despair of pardon. Whoever entirely overcomes these four enemies in confession, beyond a doubt he bears the unfeigned commandment of the Lord.
There follows: And he stood and filled all things with death: in satisfaction. Grace ‘stands’ when it makes the penitent persevere manfully in penance, so that he fills all his members with ‘death’ in mortification; so that being dead to sin he may be alive to God (cf. Rm 6,11). Then it can be said of him that standing on the earth he reached even to heaven. Grace, standing on the earth, reaches to heaven when it makes the penitent, while yet in the flesh, reach heaven in heavenly conversation; so that he can say with the Apostle: Our conversation is in heaven (Ph 3,20).
Let us ask the Lord Jesus, then, beloved brothers, to send the grace of the Holy Spirit into the midst of the land of destruction, to break the hardness of the heart, to sharpen the tongue in confession, and to fill the members of the body with mortification; whereby we may be enabled to reach heaven in heavenly conversation. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - (FIRST CLAUSE)