Anthony_Sermons - (MORAL SERMON)

1 cf. P.COMESTOR, Historia scholastica, Actus Apostolorum, , 1; PL 198.1645
2 cf. GREGORY, In Evangelia homilia 29,4; PL 76.1215
3 cf. AUGUSTINE, Confessions, I,1; PL 32.661
4 P.LOMBARD, Sententiae II, dist. 1,2
5 AUGUSTINE, In Ioannis evangelium, tract. I,13; PL 35.1385
6 cf. AUGUSTINE, De Trinitate, XIII,14,18; PL 42.1027-8; P.LOMBARD, Sententiae III, dist 20.3
7 AMBROSE, De officiis, I,24,125; PL 16.62
8 In fact, RICHARD OF ST VICTOR, De gradibus caritatis, 4; PL 196.1204

The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury


1. The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you. (Jn 14,26)


2. ‘Paracletos’ is the Greek for ‘comforter’. The Holy Spirit is named ‘Comforter’ because he consoles those whom he fills, so that though they lose temporal things, they rejoice with eternal joy. So Isaiah 51 says:

The Lord will comfort Sion, and will comfort all the ruins thereof.

And he will make her desert as a place of pleasure, and her wilderness as the garden of the Lord.

Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of praise. (Is 51,3)

We will explain this text, first morally and then anagogically.

3. (Morally.) Sion, which means ‘crag’ or ‘look-out point’, is the soul of the just man, which like a rocky crag in the sea is buffeted by the waves of temptation, and yet is not worn away or moved; and therefore looks within itself and above itself. "Grant me to know myself and you," says Augustine.1 The Holy Spirit comforts this Sion, saying:

Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. (Mt 5,5)

And Isaiah 41 says:

To comfort all that mourn: to appoint to the mourners of Sion. (Is 61,2-3)

To mourn is to be without light; whoever lacks the light of worldly glory, the Holy Spirit will fill with the consolation of his grace.

So there follows: And he will comfort all the ruins thereof. This is what the Lord says in Matthew 19:

He that hath left house or brethren, etc. will receive an hundredfold, (Mt 19,29)

that is, spiritual gifts and virtues which are worth a hundred times more than temporal and carnal things. When the latter fall into ruin, the former rise up; the proud man falls, the humble man rises; the lustful man falls, the chaste man rises, and so with the rest.

And he will make her desert as a place of pleasure. A desert is as it were a deserted place, and it represents the heart of the just man, which because it does not frequent present consolations, takes pleasure in the grace of the Holy Spirit. What shall I call ‘pleasure’, if not the sweetness of contemplation, devotion of mind and compassion for our neighbour?

And her wilderness (that is, poverty) as the garden of the Lord. Of this, the Bride says in Canticles 6:

My beloved is gone down into his garden. (Ct 6,1)

St Bernard2 says, "In heaven, all good things are abundantly available; only poverty is not to be found among them. On earth, this kind of thing abounds, and man does not know its worth. The Son of God came to seek it, so as to make it precious in his estimation."

Joy (for sin forgiven) and gladness (for an enlightened conscience), thanksgiving (for temporal benefits) and the voice of praise (for spiritual gifts) shall be found therein (i.e. in the aforesaid Sion).

4. Anagogically. Note that in this text the word ‘comfort’ occurs twice, on account of the double comfort the just man receives in the general resurrection: namely, the robe of soul and body. So the last chapter of Proverbs says:

All her domestics are clothed in double garments. (Pr 31,21)

And Isaiah 61:

For your double confusion and shame they shall praise their part; therefore they shall receive double in their land. Everlasting joy shall be to them. (Is 61,7)

What is ‘double’ consists of two parts. He comforts the soul, and he comforts the body, because he restores their ruins. So the Lord promises in the last chapter of Amos:

In that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, that is fallen:

and I will close up the breaches of the walls thereof and repair what was fallen. (Am 9,11)

He will raise up the ‘tabernacle of David’ the body of the just man which had fallen in death, ‘in that day’ of the general resurrection; when he will rebuild the ‘breaches of the walls’ (the passions of his members), so that no passion may have dominion over him. And because there is no0 true resurrection unless what falls rises again, there is added: And I will repair what was fallen. So Job says:

And in my flesh I shall see God my Saviour (Jb 19,26).

And because the just man is a ‘desert’ here, as to stillness of soul, and a ‘wilderness’ as to poverty of body, his soul takes pleasure in the savour of wisdom, with which the angels are satisfied; and his body is like the garden of the Lord, watered with four gifts, like the four rivers of Paradise. Regarding these there is added: Joy in clarity, gladness in agility, thanksgiving in subtlety and a voice of praise in impassibility, will be found therein, that is, in the robe of the glorified body. Blessed is he who merits to be consoled by the Paraclete with this double consolation.


5. The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. This is he who is breathed into the hearts of the saints by the Father and the Son. This is he by whom they are sanctified, so as to be fitted to be saints. As the human spirit is the life of the body, so this divine Spirit is the life of spirits. The former life makes able to feel, the latter life makes holy. He is called the Holy Spirit, without whom no spirit, angelic or human, is made holy.

Whom the Father shall send in my name (Jn 16,14), that is, in my glory, to manifest my glory; or because he has the same name as the Son, namely, God. The text continues: He shall glorify me, because in making you spiritual, he will declare in what way the Son is equal to the Father, he whom they had known according to the flesh, as man (cf. 2Co 5,16). Or, by taking away fear, he will make you proclaim my glory to the whole world, which will benefit, not me, but men.

He will teach you all things. Joel 2 says:

Children of Sion, rejoice and be joyful in the Lord your God: because he hath given you a teacher of justice. (Jl 2,23)

He will teach you to know all things belonging to salvation. So, just before, he promises:

Behold, I will send you corn and wine and oil, and you shall be filled with them. (Jl 2,19)

The Holy Spirit is called ‘corn’ because he strengthens those going to their homeland, lest they faint in the way (cf. Mt 15,32). He is called ‘wine’ because he gladdens them in tribulation; and ‘oil’, because he smoothes what is rough. These three were very necessary to the Apostles, about to preach in all the world, and so today he sent them the Holy Spirit to confer these three on them, with which they were filled. So there is sung of them: They were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Ac 2,4 Ac 4 Ac 31), lest the spirit of the world should enter them. A vessel completely full cannot receive anything more.

And bring all things to your mind, that is, he will help you or remind you, and make you remember all things, whatsoever I shall have said to you. He will teach you, that you may know; he will prompt you, that you may will. Behold, the Holy Spirit gives the ability to know and to will; let us apply our ability on behalf of our ability, and so we shall be a temple of that Holy Spirit. May the Son, who is blessed for ever, send him to us.


6. A swift stream of fire issued forth from before the Ancient of days (Da 7,10).

This text is from Daniel 7. There is something similar in Isaiah 44:

I will pour water upon the thirsty ground and streams upon the dry land:

I will pour out my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy stock. (Is 44,3)

This is the very thing Peter preached today in Jerusalem, in Acts 2:

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh:

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. (Ac 2,17)

A river is an everlasting flowing of waters, which stream perpetually. This ‘river’ is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which today abundantly watered the hearts of the Apostles, filling them and cleansing them. As was said: I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness (Ez 36,25).

This river is called ‘fiery’. "What else is the Holy Spirit but a divine fire? What corporeal fire does to iron, this fire does to the dirty, cold and hard heart. At the incoming of this fire, the human mind little by little loses all blackness, coldness and hardness, and wholly takes on the likeness of that by which it is inflamed. For this purpose it is given to man, for this it is breathed into him, that as far as possible he may be configured to it. For, from the burning of the divine fire, he becomes completely white-hot, and blazes forth

equally, and melts into the love of God, according to these words of the Apostle: The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost who is given to us (Rm 5,5)."3

Note that by burning, fire brings low what is high, joins together what is divided (as iron to iron), makes bright what is dark, penetrates what is hard, is always mobile, directs all its movements and force upwards and flees the earth, and moves whatever it is engendered in to its own proper operation. These seven properties of fire can be referred to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which,

by the gift of fear, brings low what is high (that is, proud);

by the gift of piety, joins divided and separated hearts;

by the gift of knowledge, makes bright what is dark;

by the gift of fortitude, penetrates hard hearts;

by the gift of counsel, is always in motion (for he who is counselled by his inspiration does not remain idle, but moves promptly to his own work and the salvation of others. "The grace of the Holy Spirit knows no sluggishness or effort."4);

by the gift of understanding, directs all its movements, etc., because by his inspiration he gives man to understand, that is, to inwardly read in his heart, that he may seek what is heavenly and flee what is earthly);

by the gift of wisdom, it moves the mind in which it is engendered to its own operation, because it gives it a taste for it. Ecclesiasticus 24 says: I perfumed my dwelling (Si 24,21). The mind of the just, in which the Holy Spirit dwells, is redolent as a vessel or place in which something sweet-scented is placed.

The grace of the Holy Spirit is called a ‘river of fire’; a river, because it extinguishes the thirst for temporal things and washes away the stains of sin; fiery, because it inflames to love and illuminates to knowledge. So today it is said to appear upon the Apostles in tongues of fire, because it made them to speak and to burn. They burned with love of God, they enlightened their neighbour with a word.

7. It is also said to be ‘swift’. So Acts 2 says:

Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming. (Ac 2,2)

Its might draws the mind above, and casts down eternal woe.

The stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful, (Ps 45,5)

because it filled the whole house where they were sitting (Ac 2,2).

We have heard where this river went; let us see whence it came out. It issued forth from before the Ancient of days. ‘Ancient’, because before everything. Christ says in John 8:

Before Abraham was made, I am. (Jn 8,58)

He, then, is the Ancient of days, an origin without a beginning, timelessly forming time, and ruling what is formed, reigning everywhere as God, from before whose face today streams forth the river of fire. The ‘face’ is that by which we are recognised. By the Son we come to know the Father, by the Holy Spirit we come to know the Son.

When the Paraclete cometh, he shall give testimony of me. (Jn 15,26)

Let us, then, devoutly ask him to send us the Paraclete, by whom we may know and love him, so that we may be found fit to attain to him. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.


8. A stream of fire, etc. There is something similar in Isaiah 59:

When he shall come as a violent stream which the spirit of the Lord driveth on. (Is 59,19)

The stream stands for the flow of tears which the spirit of contrition makes to flow. So it says in Exodus 17 that Moses struck the rock with his staff, and water came out from it (cf. Ex 17,6). The rock is the hard heart; if it is struck by the staff of contrition, the water of tears comes out. Sting your eye, and out comes a tear. Sting your heart, and out comes wisdom.

This stream is called ‘of fire’, that is, hot. So Genesis 36 says:

This is Ana that found the hot waters in the wilderness, when he fed the asses of Sebeon his father. (Gn 36,24)

Ana (‘gratified’) is the penitent whom divine grace has made grateful. He finds the waters of hot tears, which expel the chill of malice, not in the city and tumult of worldly folk, but in the wilderness of body and mind. A little child is happy when his nurse bathes him in warm water. So the just man, small in malice, is happy when grace, his nurse, washes him with tears. He says:

Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. (Ps 50,9)

He finds these waters when he corrects in himself the ‘asses’ (his asinine obstinacy) with the rod of discipline, and compels them to go into the eternal pastures.

Alternatively, the ‘asses’ are faithful souls, which are called ‘of Sebeon’ (meaning ‘standing in mourning’), who represents Christ, the father of the just man, who by taking on our nature stands mourning; for as the Apostle says, he was offering with a strong cry and with tears (He 5,7). His faithful, as he feeds them with word and example, find tears in the wilderness of the mind, because compunction of tears arises from compassion for our neighbours. So Job 30 says:

I wept heretofore for him that was afflicted:

and my soul had compassion on the poor. (Jb 30,25)

Compunction of tears is called a ‘stream of fire’ because it cleanses and warms. There is a proverb, "He weeps warmly, who weeps from the heart." Because there was a great fire of love in the heart of Magdalene, she shed the hottest tears, and she began to wash his feet with tears (Lc 7,38).Truly her tears were a ‘swift stream of fire’, because they destroyed all her sins:

Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. (cf. Lc 7,47)

9. ‘Swift’. So Job 3 says:

Before I eat, I sigh; and as overflowing waters, so is my roaring. (Jb 3,24)

As a swift and violent river, the waters of a flood, washes away an obstacle; so the ‘roaring’, the groans and tears, of a penitent wash away all the obstacles of temptation. And as at the roaring of a lion all the beasts stop in their steps, so do all the demons at the groaning of a penitent. So in chapter 2:

No man spoke to him a word: for they saw that his grief was very great. (Jb 2,13)

The ‘speaking’ of the demons is their tempting, which ceases when there is vehement sorrow in a penitent; First he must go forward, if afterwards he may eat; that is, have peace and sweetness of conscience.

This stream goes out from the face of Christ, coming to judgement, and to render to each according to his works. Then let a man call to mind how angry that terrible judge will be, so that the powers of heaven shall be moved (Lc 21,26), and the pillars of heaven tremble (cf. Jb 26,11); when, as Apocalypse 6 says, they will say to the mountains and rocks:

Fall upon us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the

wrath of the Lamb. (Ap 6,16)

Formerly he was silent before his shearer and striker, his face smeared with spittle and swollen with blows, pale in death; but in judgement his face will be fierce, angry and unpitying. Who will then stand to see it? If, as Esther 15 says,

when she saw the face of Assuerus, full of graces, she fell down and was almost in a swoon (cf. Est 15,17-18)

what will man do, when in the judgement he sees the face of the just Judge, so terrible and austere?

When Assuerus had lifted up his countenance, and with burning eyes had shewn the wrath of his heart, the queen sunk down and her colour turned pale: and she rested her weary head upon her handmaid. (Est 15,10)

When someone considers all this carefully within himself, he is fear-struck and grief- stricken, and he is awash with tears. So the swift stream of fire goes out from the face of Christ. Isaiah says: From thy face, O Lord, we have conceived and brought forth the spirit of salvation (cf. Is 26,17-18), tearful compunction. May he deign to grant us this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

1 cf. AUGUSTINE, Soliloquies II,1; PL 32.885
2 cf. BERNARD, In vigila Nativitatis Domini, sermo 1,5; PL 183.89
3 RICHARD OF ST VICTOR, De Trinitate VI,14; PL 196.978
4 AMBROSE, Exposition of Luke, II,19; PL 15.1640

The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury



1. At that time: The time was fulfilled for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son (Lc 1,57). In this Gospel two things are noted: the birth of the Forerunner, and his naming.


2. The birth of the Forerunner: The time was fulfilled for Elizabeth. Mary remained three months in the house of Zacharias, ministering to her kinswoman, until she should give birth; and "It is read in the book of the Just that the blessed Virgin was the first to pick up the new-born John."1 The time was fulfilled: the word ‘fulfil’ is frequently used in Holy Scripture in connection with the birth, death or activity of good men, signifying that their life has the fulness of perfection. Thus:

It came to pass that Mary’s days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. (Lc 2,6) Abraham died, being full of days. (Gn 25,8)

On the contrary, the days of the wicked are empty and vacant. So, The time was fulfilled for Elizabeth to give birth. Zacharias, as Luke tells, went into the Lord’s temple to offer incense, when Gabriel appeared to him and said, ‘Elizabeth your wife will bear you a son’ (cf. Lc 1 . What was told him in the month of September, when the solemn feast was celebrated which is called the ‘Day of Expiation, or Propitiation’, was fulfilled today. Let us see the moral significance of Zacharias (‘remembrance of the Lord’ or ‘remembering the Lord’) and Elizabeth (‘the seventh of my God’).

3. Elizabeth is the faithful soul, who is well-named ‘seventh of my God’ on account of three ‘sevens’ which belong to her especially: of gifts, petitions and blessings. The first ‘seven’ justifies, the second moves on from good to better, the third perfects. Alternatively, ‘seven’ refers to the sabbath (or ‘rest’), in which God rested (cf. Ex 31,15 Ex 31,17); since she rested from all servile work. "The soul of the just is the seat of wisdom."2 His place is in peace (cf. Ps 75,3), that is, in the peaceful soul. Of this sabbath Isaiah 58 says:

Thou shalt call the sabbath delightful, and the holy of the Lord glorious. (Is 58,13)

‘Delightful’ suggests pleasurable experience; the ‘delights’ are those three ‘sevens’ mentioned above, with which the soul is fed, so as to make a delightful sabbath, fed with holiness of life and glory of conscience.

This Elizabeth conceives by Zacharias; so that the Psalm says:

I remembered God, and was delighted,

and was exercised, and my spirit swooned away. (Ps 76,4)

A woman conceives with pleasure, and the soul conceives in great delight, from the remembrance of the Lord. So the Psalm says:

I have been delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as in all riches, (Ps 118,14)

that is, ‘in the way of your martyrdoms’, your sufferings. The crown of thorns, the Cross, the nails, the lance and the other instruments of Christ’s Passion, are the delight of the just man, in which he takes more pleasure than in all the riches of this world, saying, I remembered God, and was delighted. Two things come from this delight, the exercise of works of charity, and a failure of self-confidence in spirit; or else the two things the Psalm mentions:

My flesh (my carnality) and my heart (the pride of my heart) hath fainted away: thou art the God of my heart, and God is my portion for ever., (Ps 72,26) from whom I may conceive and bear the child of eternal life.

Note that Elizabeth conceived in the seventh month, September, and gave birth in June. Even so, the soul conceives in the ‘seventh’ (the sabbath), that is, in stillness, by devotion of mind; and she bears her son, good work, in June, called ‘Siban’ in Hebrew, meaning ‘rightness of gift’. The gift of grace which she conceives in her mind, she brings forth in rightness of action.

4. Now Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come; and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shewed his great mercy towards her; and the congratulated her.(Lc 1,57-58)

The Gloss says, "The coming forth or birth of saints brings joy to many, because it is a common good. Saints are born for the common benefit. Justice is a common virtue, that is, for the common profit of all, and so in the birth of a just man signs of his future life are given beforehand, and the grace of the virtue which is to follow is shown in the prefiguring joy of the neighbours."

Morally. The ‘neighbours’ are the angels, the ‘kinsfolk’ are just men, who congratulate the soul on the birth of good works. So Gabriel said:

And many shall rejoice in his nativity; for he shall be great before the lord and shall drink no wine nor strong drink. (Lc 1,14)

Truly, many rejoice: Christ, angel and neighbour. Christ, because as Luke 15 says,

When he hath found the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing. (Lc 15,5)

The Gloss says, " The ‘shoulders’ of Christ are the arms of the Cross. There he carried my sins, on that neck of a noble gibbet he rested." The angel, because:

I say to you, there shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance. (Lc 15,10)

The Gloss says, "The angels, being rational, rejoice that man is reconciled to them; which should motivate us to goodness of life, to do what is pleasing to them whose patronage we should desire, and to offend whom we should fear. The neighbour, as the Apostle says in II Corinthians 7:

I rejoice because you were made sorrowful unto penance. (2Co 7,9)

He will be great. Note that ‘great’ is used in reference to mind, ‘largeness’ to the body. If your work be small in your own eyes, it will be great before God. I must decrease, he must increase (cf. Jn 3,30), he says. When you lessen yourself by humility, grace grows in you by virtue of soul. Before the Lord, not before men, who deceive and are deceived, who call evil good, and good evil. What a man is before God, that he is, and no more.3 If you want to consecrate your good work to God, beware, lest you drink the wine of vainglory and the strong drink of unsuitable mirth. So the Lord says to Aaron, in Leviticus 10:

You shall not drink wine nor anything that may make drunk, thou nor thy sons, when you enter into the tabernacle of the testimony, lest you die. (Lv 10,9)

And Numbers 6:

When a man or woman shall make a vow to be sanctified, and will consecrate themselves to the Lord, they shall abstain from wine and every thing that may make drunk. (Nb 6,2-3)

Whoever wants to consecrate his work to the Lord, and be received into the tabernacle of the heavenly Jerusalem, should beware the drunkenness of vainglory and foolish



5. His naming: And it came to pass that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child (Lc 1,59). The ‘first day’ is knowledge of our own frailty; the second, the remembrance of our wickedness; the third, bitter contrition for it; the fourth, shedding of tears; the fifth, self-accusation in confession; the sixth, prayer to God; the seventh, almsgiving to one’s neighbour; the eighth, affliction of abstinence upon oneself. On this ‘eighth day’ the child is circumcised, for truly the virtue of abstinence circumcises both the heart, from evil consent, and the body, from unlawful pleasures of the senses. So ‘to abstain’ is, literally, ‘to stand apart’. He ‘stands apart’ who neither in heart or body consents to illicit pleasure. So Genesis 19 says that the angels said to Lot:

Do not stay in all the country about, but save thyself in the mountain, lest thou be also consumed. (Gn 19,17)

‘All the country’ is heart and body, in which we should not stay at all, either by act, or even ‘about’, by consent. We should save ourselves far off in the mountain of heavenly conversation, lest we perish along with those who stay in or about that country.

There follows: And they called him by his father’s name Zachary (Lc 1,59). The Gloss says, "Those who call him by the name of his father represent those who, when the Lord makes known new gifts of grace, would prefer him to proclaim the accustomed commands of the old priesthood. They want to impose his father’s name, because they would rather receive justice (which comes from law) than grace (which comes from faith)." Wicked kinsfolk and relatives do this very thing today, who want to impose on a usurer’s son the name of his father: teaching him to imitate his father’s malice, rapacity and usury.

But let us hear what his mother answers: Not so. But he shall be called John (Lc 1,60). She learnt from the spirit of prophecy what she had not learnt from her husband. She could not ignore the foreteller who had prophesied Christ, just as he had been foretold by the angel to Zachary. John means ‘grace of God’, because he was the foreteller of grace, or the beginner of Baptism by which grace is ministered. The faithful soul wants her work to be called after grace, because she has it by grace and wants to keep it by grace; saying with the Apostle:

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace in me hath not been void. (1Co 15,10)

So John means ‘he in whom is grace’, for two reasons: that he keep it, and that he be kept by it, and so it will not be ‘void’ or futile. When a vessel preserves wine, it is also preserved by the wine against corruption. Keep my commandments, and they will keep you (cf. Pr 7,2), it says. So Apocalypse 3:

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon the whole world to try them that dwell upon the earth. (Ap 3,10)

He who keeps the word of patience, is kept; lest he utter a word of shame in time of temptation, or consent to sin. Or else, the ‘hour of temptation’ is the point of death, in which the devil tries by every means to tempt man and pervert his sense, because at that moment he will either gain him or lose him altogether. And he chiefly tempts him to loss of faith or despair, lest he trust or receive the sacraments of the Church, and place his hope in the divine mercy. But happy is he who is kept in that hour!

6. There follows: And they said to her: There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name (Lc 1,61). The evil and perverse kindred are carnal appetites and irrational inclinations of the mind, wherein there is none that is called after grace, but rather after concupiscence and vanities. Neither the devils nor wicked men want our work to be called after grace, but rather after pride, lust and avarice. So in Ruth :

The women (soft and feeble folk) said: This is that Noemi. But she said to them: Call me not Noemi (that is, beautiful), but call me Mara (that is, bitter), for the Almighty hath quite filled me with bitterness. (Rt 1,19-20)

They call her by the name of ‘beauty’ (which is skin-deep), not ‘penance’ which is in bitterness of heart, whereby the grace of the Almighty fills the soul so that it has no room for the pleasure of poisonous sweetness.

And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called (Lc 1,62). The Gloss says, "Those who make signs to the father regarding the child’s name represent those who aim to construct the grace of faith only upon the testimony of the law." Because unbelief had taken away his speech and hearing, he was asked by signs.

Gabriel said to him: Thou shalt be dumb and shalt not be able to speak until the day wherein these things come to pass. (Lc 1,20)

And demanding a writing table he wrote, saying: John is his name. (Lc 1,63)

He asked either for a table to rest his hand on, or for a writer’s pen. It was as though he said, "We are not giving him a name; he has already received one from God. He has his name; we do not choose it, we acknowledge it."

And they all wondered (Lc 1,63) at the agreement between father and mother. Daniel 5 says that there was sent from God a hand, which wrote on the wall: Mane, Thecel, Phares; which means: he has numbered, he has weighed, he has divided (cf. Da 5,24-28). The hand is at the service of the whole body; it puts food in the mouth and does everything. This represents the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given to the faithful as the means whereby they are fed, and whereby they act. This hand writes upon the

human heart these three things: that it number all its sins in confession, and afterwards weighs them in satisfaction, so that punishment is in proportion to guilt, which it altogether separates from itself, so that it may finally persevere in penitence. Behold the writing of grace! Whoever is such as this, His name is John. The grace of the Holy Spirit imposes and writes the name of grace, that all our works may be pleasing and ‘graceful’, being referred to the grace of him by whom it is given. To him be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.


7. Nephtali is a hart let loose, and giving words of beauty. This text is from Genesis 49 (Gn 49,21). Nephtali means ‘widening’, or ‘he has widened me’, and represents blessed John, whom the Lord widened with manifold grace and made rich. So Jeremiah 1 says to him:

Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee. (Jr 1,5)

In Luke 1, Gabriel said:

Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. (Lc 1,13)

And before thou camest out of the womb I sanctified thee. (Jr 1,5)


Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, (Lc 1,41) and: the infant in her womb leapt for joy. (Lc 1,44)

I have made thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jr 1,5)


What went you out to see? A prophet? Yea, I tell you, and more than a prophet. (Mt 11,9)

He is called ‘a hart let loose’, rapid and fast-moving, leaping over thorny and pitted places, aiding his course with a spring. So blessed John swiftly leaped over the riches of the world (the ‘thorny places’) and the pleasures of the flesh (the ‘pitted places’). So there is sung about him the hymn,

"E’en in thy childhood, ’mid the desert places,

Thou hadst a refuge from the city gained."4

He was there from the age of twelve. So Luke 1 says:

The child grew and was strengthened in spirit (growing in the grace of the Holy Spirit) and was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Lc 1,80)

And Matthew 3:

John had his garment of camels’ hair and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. (Mt 3,4)

The Gloss on John says, "Poor clothing and food are praised, their use is rebuked in the rich man" who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day (Lc 16,19). If blessed John, sanctified in the womb (than whom, by the Lord’s testimony, a greater had not arisen among the sons of women (cf. Mt 11,11)), afflicted himself with such rough clothing and poor food: what can we wretched sinners say, conceived in sin and full of vice as we are, who shun what is rough and seek out what is soft and sweet? As Isaiah 22 says, the Lord calls us

to weeping and to mourning, to baldness and to girding with sack-cloth. And behold, joy and gladness, killing calves and slaying rams, eating flesh and drinking wine. (Is 22,12-13)

weeping means contrition, mourning is shedding tears, baldness is putting away temporal things, and sack-cloth is afflicting the flesh. Blessed John calls us to these by the example of his life and by the word of his preaching; and so is said:

8. Giving words of beauty. Whence he said: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt 4,17). And again: I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (Lc 3,4). These are ‘words of beauty; penitence beautifies the soul, whence IV Kings 5 says that

Naaman the leper went down and washed in the Jordan seven times, according to the word of Eliseus; and his flesh was restored, like the flesh of a little child, and he was made clean. (2R 5,14)

So the sinner, infected with the leprosy of sin, must ‘go down’ (humble himself) and wash himself in the Jordan (‘river of judgement’), tearful penitence, seven times: that is, throughout all the time of his life, which passes through seven ages, or because a seven year penance is usually enjoined on a sinner, according to the words of ‘Eliseus’ (that is, John the Baptist): Do penance, etc. And so his soul is restored to the cleanness of Baptismal innocence, which he had already received as a little child.

And note that blessed John is called ‘a voice’. A voice is air, a voice makes known the will of the mind. Blessed John had nothing of the earth, earthly, but was entirely of the air, because ‘his conversation was in heaven’ (cf. Ph 3,20). Or he is called ‘a voice’, since because of his exceeding abstinence he was slender, announcing the will of Christ, who ‘cried in the desert’ (that is, on the Cross): Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (Lc 23,46). Or, just as a voice comes before a word, so he went before the Son of God. So Job 38 says:

Canst thou bring forth Lucifer in his time? (Jb 38,2)

Just as Lucifer, the morning star, announces the day, so blessed John announced to us the ‘day’ of eternal life, Jesus Christ. He that shall come alter me was made (that is, is preferred) before me (Jn 1,15) in dignity. Blessed is he for ever. Amen.

Anthony_Sermons - (MORAL SERMON)