Anthony_Sermons - (MORAL SERMON)


16. 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 land.

He scorneth the multitude of the city, he heareth not the cry of the driver.

He looketh round about the mountains of his pastures, and seeketh for every green thing.

This text comes from Job 39 (Jb 39,5-8). The wild ass, or onager (‘field-ass’) represents blessed Paul, who was as it were the ass of that field which is the Church. A ‘field’ is someone’s area of work, where they sow, or plant trees, or put to pasture, or decorate with flowers. Blessed Paul did all these four things in the field of the Church. He sowed the seed of the divine word. he grafted the shoots of holy life upon the unfruitful trees, to renew them and make them bear fruit; or (as Ecclesiastes saysj he planted trees of all kinds (Qo 2,5), namely just men. He tended the pastures of eternal life, and decorated it with flowers of various virtues. He was, then, the ‘ass’ of this field, because in it he bore the burden of the day and the heats (cf. Mt 20,12). As he said:

In many more labours, in prisons more frequently, in stripes above measure, in deaths often, etc. (2Co 11,23), besides those things that are without; my daily instance, the solicitude for all the churches. (2Co 11,28)

Who has sent out this wild ass free? He, surely, who ‘set him apart from his mother’s womb’ (the Synagogue, by whose laws and ceremonies he had been bound) and called him by his grace (Ga 1,15); and so set him free. So he says:

Am not I free? Am not I an Apostle? Have not I seen Jesus Christ our Lord? (1Co 9,1)

Truly he was free, who could say: I am not conscious to myself of anything (1Co 4,4).

Or who hath loosed his bonds? Surely Christ, of whom he said: I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ (Ph 1,23). He set him free in his conversion, that he might run to preach the word. In his Passion today, he loosed the bonds of his body, that he might fly to heaven.

17. There follows: To whom I have given a house in the wilderness, and his dwelling in the barren land. This is what he himself said:

He who wrought in Peter the apostleship of the circumcised wrought in me also among the Gentiles, (Ga 2,8)

who are called ‘a wilderness’, because God does not dwell in them, and ‘a barren land’ of bitterness and sterility. God gave blessed Paul a house among them, that is, he gave him to build a house among them, the holy Church, and the tent-dwelling of holy warfare, so that he might fight for them against visible and invisible enemies, and defend the house committed to him.

There follows: He scorneth the multitude of the city (of Rome), in which he was beheaded today; so that he might say with Job 31:

If I have been afraid at a very great multitude,

and the contempt of kinsmen hath terrified me. (Jb 31,34)

(The ‘kinsmen’ are the Jews). Another translation puts it more clearly:

Nor was I ashamed before a multitude of people, that I would not confess before them.

Truly, this is what blessed Paul did; so that he says to Timothy:

In the Gospel I am appointed a preacher and an apostle and teacher of the Gentiles. For which cause, I also suffer these things; but I am not ashamed. (2Tm 1,11-12)

He heareth not the cry of the driver, namely Nero, fearing not his sword; for, as he himself says, No creature can separate from the charity of Christ (cf. Rm 8,39).

So there is added: He looketh round about the mountains of his pastures, which stand for the charity of Christ. He says: I shew unto you yet a more excellent way (1Co 12,31). There are his pastures, his refreshment and satisfaction. He looks around them, scorns the multitude and does not hear the cry of the driver. Alternatively, the ‘mountains of pastures’ are the angelic orders, to which, whether in the body or out of the body, God knoweth, he was caught up; and heard words which it is not granted to man to utter (cf. 2Co 12,3-4). There he fed, there he rejoiced, because there was his pasture, the contemplation and refreshment belonging to him.

And he seeketh for every green thing. Though still in mortal flesh, he looked about the mountains of the heavenly pasture, in contemplation of mind, carefully and (if it is right o say so) continually. Now, truly, he ‘seeks every green thing’, meaning the joy of eternal satisfaction, which satisfies his every desire. He who seeks, desires. Such is the great beauty of the divine majesty, which inflames those blessed spirits with its desire, and by inflaming refreshes, and by refreshing makes to desire! To him be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.


18. Who hath sent out the wild ass free? He, surely, of whom Moses says in Deuteronomy 6:

When thy son shall ask thee tomorrow, saying: What mean these testimonies, and ceremonies, and judgements? Thou shalt say to him: We were bondmen of Pharao in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand; that he might bring us in and give us the land (Dt 6,20-21,23), flowing with milk and honey. (Dt 26,9)

Whoever committeth sin is the servant of sin (Jn 8,34); and Peter says:

By whom a man is overcome, of the same also is he the slave. (2P 2,19)

From this slavery, he sends forth the wild ass free, who says in Isaiah 43:

I am, I am he that blot out thy iniquities for my own sake; and I will not remember thy sins. (Is 43,25)

And the last chapter of Micah:

He will put away our iniquities, and he will cast our sins into the bottom of the sea. (Mi 7,19)

The ‘wild ass’ is the spirit of the penitent who (as is said in the last chapter of Proverbs) hath considered a field, and bought it (Pr 31,16). The ‘field’ is the heavenly homeland which is worked continually, because God is unceasingly praised there. As it is said: They shall praise thee for ever and ever (Ps 83,5). She considers this field in contemplation of mind, she buys it in satisfaction of penance, and she is called ‘ass of the field’. He sends her forth free, when with Magdalene she hears the words: Thy sins are forgiven thee (Lc 5,23).

Or who hath loosed his bonds? Surely that Jacob mentioned in the penultimate chapter of Genesis:

The bands of Joseph’s arms and hands were loosed, by the hands of the mighty one of Jacob. (Gn 49,24)

The ‘bands’ are the evil habits and desires of the world, which bind the arms and hands so that they cannot perform good works, as Solomon counsels in Ecclesiastes 9:

Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly: for neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom, nor knowledge, shall be in hell, whither thou art hastening. (Qo 9,10)

You hasten and urge yourself on by mortal sin. But those bands are loosened by the hand of mighty one of Jacob, that is, the mercy of the mighty God, who rescued Jacob (the spirit) from the hand (the power) of his brother Esau (the flesh or the world). Judges 16 is concordant:

Samson broke the bands, as a man would break a twisted thread of tow, when it smelleth the fire. (Jg 16,9)

The fire is the grace of the Holy Spirit, and at its smell (its inspiration) the bands of evil habit are broken, with which Samson was bound by Delilah, that is, the spirit by carnal desire.

Thus freed, let us hear what the Lord will do: To him I have given a house in the wilderness. So Jeremiah says:

From the presence of the hand of the Lord I sat alone,

because thou hast filled me with bitterness. (cf. Jr 15,17)

And Lamentations 3:

He shall sit solitary and hold his peace: because he hath lifted himself up above himself; he shall put his mouth in the dust. (Lm 3,28-29)

Five things are mentioned in this text, which are necessary for any just man:

peace of heart (where it says, He shall sit),

separation from earthly things (where it says, solitary),

silence of the mouth (he will hold his peace),

lifting up in contemplation (he hath lifted himself up above himself),

remembrance of his own frailty (adding: he shall put his mouth in the dust).

He remembers what was said, and says to himself: Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.

19. There follows: And his dwelling in the barren land. The barren land is this world; whence the Psalm says:

He hath turned a fruitful land into barrenness,

for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. (Ps 106,33-34)

As it says in the Apocalypse: Woe to the inhabitants of the earth (cf. Ap 8,13). In this land the Lord gives the wild ass (the spirit) a tent-dwelling, his bodily members, so that in them and from them he may fight the devil and sin. "It is a skilfully fighting enemy that makes you a skilful fighter."6 So the Apostle says:

I so fight, not as one beating the air (the spirits of the air, but not only them), but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection. (1Co 9,26-27)

So Genesis 12 says: Abraham pitched his tent between Bethel (meaning ‘the house of God’) and Hai (‘the question of life’) (cf. Gn 12,8). To ‘pitch one’s tent’ is to exercise one’s body in the satisfaction of penance, and spread it out to works of charity. This, between the ‘house of God’, eternal life, by directing the eye of one’s entire intention there; and the ‘question’ which is the temptation of this life, so as to fight it, and by fighting overcome it in strength of mind. In the school of this wretched life, various are the ‘questions’ of temptation. Who is so skilled as to confute them all? There are as many questions as there are temptations. We cannot answer them more wisely, than by despising them. So there follows: He scorneth the multitude of the city.

1 cf. Abbot GAUFRIDUS, Declamationes, 11,12; PL 184.444
2 cf. GREGORY, Moralia, XX,15,40; PL 76.160-1
3 GUIGO THE CARTHUSIAN, Epistola ad fratres de Monte Dei, I,5,14; PL 184.317
4 cf. RICHARD OF ST VICTOR, Beniamin maior, IV, 11; PL 196.147
5 cf. RICHARD OF ST VICTOR, Beniamin minor, 2-4; PL 196.2-4
6 OVID, Ponticae, II,3,53

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


(In his biography of St Antony, Fr Leopold de Cherance gives a sermon which the Saint is said to have delivered in 1226, in the Benedictine abbey of St Martin at Limoges. His authority is the Chronicle of Pierre Coral, Abbot of St Martin, Librairie Nationale MS n. 5,452, fol. cix. This sermon does not seem to correspond to any of those contained in the Sermones Dominicales et Festivi. As it is not readily available, I reproduce it in the English translation of Fr Marianus, O.S.F.C.1 I have given the scriptural references, and conformed the lay-out to the rest of this translation. If authentic, this seems to be the only record of a sermon as actually preached by the Saint.)


Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest! (Ps 54,7)

Such is the cry of a soul that is weary of this world and longs for the solitude and peace of the cloister life. It is of the religious life that the Prophet Jeremias spoke when he said:

Leave the cities, ye that dwell in Moab, and dwell in the rock;

and be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the mouth of the hole in the highest place. (Jr 48,28)

Leave the cities, that is, the sins and vices which dishonour, the tumult which prevents the soul from raising herself to God, and, often, even from thinking of him. Leave the cities, for it is written:

I have seen iniquity and contradiction in the city.

Day and night shall iniquity surround it upon its walls;

and in the midst thereof are labour and injustice.

And usury and deceits have not departed from its streets. (Ps 54,10-12)

There is to be found iniquity against God and man; contradiction against the preacher of truth; labour in the ambitious cares of the world; injustice in its dealings; knavery and usury in its business transactions.

Ye that dwell in Moab, that is in the world which is seated in pride as the city of Moab. All is pride in the world: pride of the intellect, which refuses to humble itself before God; pride of the will, which refuses to submit to the will of God; pride of the senses, which rebel against reason and dominate it... But to leave the world, live remote from the tumult of cities, to keep oneself unspotted from their vices, is not sufficient for the religious soul.

Hence the Prophet adds: Dwell in the rock. Now this rock is Jesus Christ. Establish yourself in him; let him be the constant theme of your thoughts, the object of your affections. Jacob reposed upon a stone in the wilderness, and while he slept he saw the heavens opened and conversed with angels, receiving a blessing from the Lord (cf. Gn 28,116). Thus will it be with those who place their entire trust in Jesus Christ. They will be favoured with heavenly visions; they will live in the company of angels, they will be blessed as Jacob was, to the north and south, to the east and west (Gn 28,14). To the north, which is the divine breath mortifying the flesh with its concupiscences; to the east, which is the light of faith and the merit of good works; to the south, which is the full meridian splendour of wisdom and charity; to the west, which is the burial of the old man with his vices. But as to the soul which does not repose upon this rock, it cannot expect to be blessed by the Lord.

And be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the mouth of the hole of the highest place.

If Jesus Christ is the rock, the hole of the rock, in which the religious soul is to seek shelter and take up her abode, is the wound in the side of Jesus Christ. This is the safe harbour of refuge, to which the Divine Spouse calls the religious soul when he speaks to her in the words of the Canticle:

Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come, O my dove,

that art in the clefts of the rock. in the deep hollow of the wall. (Ct 2,13-14)

The Divine Spouse speaks of the numberless clefts of the rock, but he also speaks of the deep hollow. There were, indeed, in his body numberless wounds, and one deep wound in his side; this leads to his heart, and it is hither he calls the soul he has espoused. To her he extends his arms, to her he opens wide his sacred hide and divine heart, that she may come and hide therein. By retiring into the clefts of the rock the dove is safe from the pursuit of birds of prey, and, at the same time, she prepares for herself a quiet refuge where she may calmly repose and coo in peace. So the religious soul finds in the heart of Jesus a secure refuge against the wiles and attacks of Satan, and a delightful retreat. But we must not rest merely at the entrance to the hole in the rock, we must penetrate its depths. At the mouth of the deep hollow, at the mouth of the wound in his side we shall, indeed, find the precious blood which has redeemed us. This blood

pleads for us and demands mercy for us. But the religious soul must not stay at the entrance. When she has heard, and understood, the voice of the divine blood, she must hasten to the very source from which it springs, into the very innermost sanctuary of the heart of Jesus. There she will find light, peace, and ineffable consolations.

And be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the deep hollow of the rock. The dove builds her nest with little pieces of straw she gathers up here and there. And how are we to build an abode in the heart of Jesus? This Divine Saviour, who so mercifully gives us the place wherein we are to make our abode, furnishes us at the same time with the materials with which to construct it. O religious soul, dove beloved of Christ, behold those little pieces of straw which the world tramples under its feet. They are the virtues practised by thy Saviour and thy Spouse, of which he himself has set thee an example: humility, meekness, poverty, penance, patience and mortification. The world despises them as useless pieces of straw; nevertheless, they will be for thee the material wherewith to construct thy dwelling-place, for ever, in the profound hollow of the rock, in the heart of Jesus.

1 St. Anthony of Padua, by Father Leopold de Cherance, O.S.F.C., rendered into English by Father Marianus, O.S.F.C. with an introduction by Father Anselm, O.S.F.C. (Eighth Edition, London, Burns Oates & Washbourne), 83-86.

Anthony_Sermons - (MORAL SERMON)