Leo the Great: sermons 2024

Sermon XXIV. On the Feast of the Nativity, IV.

I. The Incarnation Fulfils All Its Types and Promises.

The Divine goodness, dearly beloved, has indeed always taken thought for mankind in divers manners, and in many portions, and of His mercy has imparted many gifts of His providence to the ages of old; but in these last times has exceeded all the abundance of His usual kindness, when in Christ the very Mercy has descended to sinners, the very Truth to those that are astray, the very Life to those that are dead: so that Word, which is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, might take our humble nature into union with His Godhead, and, being born God of God, might also be bern Man of man. Tiffs was indeed promised from the foundation of the world, and had always been prophesied by many intimations of facts and words1 : but how small a portion of mankind would these types and fore-shadowed mysteries have saved, had not the coming of Christ fulfilled those long and secret promises: and had not that which then benefited but a few believers in the prospect, now benefited myriads of the faithful in its accomplishment. Now no longer then are we led to believe by signs and types, but being confirmed by the gospel story we worship that which we believe to have been done; the prophetic lore2 assisting our knowledge, so that we have no manner of doubt about that which we know to have been predicted by such sure oracles. For hence it is that the Lord says to Abraham: “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed3 :” hence David, in the spirit of prophecy, sings, saying: “The Lord swore truth to David, and He shall not frustrate it: of the fruit of thy loins will I set upon thy seat4 ;” hence the Lord again says through Isaiah: “behold a virgin shall conceive in her womb, and shall bear a Son, and His Name shall be called Emmanuel, which is interpreted, God with us5 ,” and again, “a rod shall come forth from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall arise froth his root6 .” In which rod, no doubt the blessed Virgin Mary is predicted, who sprung from the stock of Jesse and David and fecundated by the Holy Ghost, brought forth a new flower of human flesh, becoming a virgin-mother.

II. The Incarnation Was the Only Effective Remedy to the Fall.

Let the righteous then rejoice in the Lord, and let the hearts of believers turn to God’s praise, and the sons of men confess His wondrous acts; since in this work of God especially our humble estate realizes how highly its Maker values it: in that, after His great gift to mankind in making us after His image, He contributed far more largely to our restoration when the Land Himself took on Him “the form of a slave.” For though all that the Creator expends upon His creature is part of one and the same Fatherly love, yet it is less wonderful than man should advance to divine things than that God should descend to humanity. But unless the Almighty God did deign to do this, no kind of righteousness, no form of wisdom could rescue any one from the devil’s bondage and from the depths of eternal death. For the condemnation that passes with sin from one upon all would remain, and our nature, corroded by its deadly wound, would discover no remedy, because it could not alter its state in its own strength. For the first man received the substance of flesh from the earth, and was quickened with a rational spirit by the in-breathing of his Creator7 , so that living after the image and likeness of his Maker, he might preserve the form of God’s goodness and righteousness as in a bright mirror. And, if he had perseveringly maintained this high dignity of his nature by observing the Law that was given him, his uncorrupt mind would have raised the character even Of his earthly body to heavenly glory. But because in unhappy rashness he trusted the envious deceiver, and agreeing to his presumptuous counsels, preferred to forestall rather than to win the increase of honour that was in storefor him, not only did that one man, but in him all that came after him also hear the verdict: “earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou go8 ;” “as in the earthy,” therefore, “such are they also that are earthy9 ,” and no one is immortal, because no one is heavenly.

III. We All Became Partakers in the Birth of Christ, by the Re-Birth of Baptism.

And so to undo this chain of sin and death, the Almighty Son of God, that fills all things and contains,all things, altogether equal to the Father and co-eternal in one essence from Him and with Him, took on Him man’s nature, and the Creator and Land of all things deigned to be a mortal: choosing for His mother one whom He had made, one who, without loss of her maiden honour, supplied so much of bodily substance, that without the pollution of human seed the New Man might be possessed of purity and truth. In Christ, therefore, born of the Virgin’s womb, the nature does not differ from ours, because His nativity is wonderful. For He Who is true God, is also true man: and there is no lie in either nature. “The Word became flesh” by exaltation of the flesh, not by failure of the Godhead: which so tempered its power and goodness as to exalt our nature by taking it, and not to lose His own by imparting it. In this nativity of Christ, according to the prophecy of David, “truth sprang out of the earth, and righteousness looked down from heaven10 .” In this nativity also, Isaiah’s saying is fulfilled, “let the earth produce and bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together11 .” For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to every one when he is re-born, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing.

IV. The Manichaeans, by Rejecting the Incarnation, Have Fallen into Terrible Iniquities.

In this mystery, dear beloved, the mad error of the Manichaeans has no part, nor have they any partnership in the regeneration of Christ, who say that He was corporeally born of the Virgin Mary: so that, as they do not believe in His real nativity, they do not accept His real passion either; and, not acknowledging Him really buried, they reject His genuine resurrection. For, having entered on the perilous path of their abominable dogma, where all is dark and slippery, they rush into the abyss of death over the precipice of falsehood, and find no sure ground on which to rest; because, besides all their other diabolical enormities, on the very chief feast of Christ’s worship, as their latest confession has made manifest12 , they revel in bodily as well as mental pollution, losing their own modesty as well as the purity of their Faith; so that they are found to be as filthy in their rites as they are blasphemers in their doctrines.

V. Other Heresies Contain Some Portion of Truth, But the Manichoeans Contain None Whatever.

Other heresies, dearly beloved, although they are all rightly to be condemned in their variety, yet have each in some part of them that which is true. Arius, in laying down that the Son of God is less than the Father and a creature, and in thinking that the Holy Spirit was like all else made by the same (Father), has lost himself in great blasphemy; but he has not denied the eternal and unchangeable Godhead in the essence of the Father, though he could not see it in the Unity of the Trinity. Macedonius was devoid of the light of the Truth when he did not receive the Godhead of the Holy Spirit, but he did acknowledge one power and the same nature in the Father and the Son. Sabellius was plunged into inextricable error by holding the unity of substance to be inseparable in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but granted to a singleness of nature what he should have attributed to an equality of nature13 , and because he could not understand a true Trinity, he believed in one and the same person under a threefold appellation. Photinus, misled by his mental blindness, acknowledged in Christ true man of our substance, but did not believe Him born God of God before all ages, and so losing the entirety of the Faith, believed the Son of God tO have taken on Him the true nature of human flesh in such a way as to assert that there was no soul in it, because the Godhead Itself took its place14 . Thus, if all the errors which the catholic Faith has anathematized are recanted, something is found in one after another which can be separated from its damnable setting. But in the detestable dogma of the Manicheans there is absolutely nothing which can be adjudged tolerable in any degree.

VI. Christians Must Cling to the One Faith and Not Be Led Astray.

But you, dearly beloved, whom I address in no less earnest terms than those of the blessed Apostle Peter, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession15 ,” built upon the impregnable rock, Christ, and joined to the Lord our Saviour by His true assumption of our flesh, remain firm in that Faith, which you have professed before many witnesses, and in which you were reborn through water and the Holy Ghost, and received the anointing of salvation, and the seal of eternal life16 . But “if any one preach to you any thing beside that which you have learnt, let him be anathema17 :” refuse to put wicked fables before the clearest truth, and what you may happen to read or hear contrary to the rule of the catholic and Apostolic creed, judge it altogether deadly and diabolical. Be not carried away by their deceitful keepings of sham and pretended fasts which tend not to the cleansing, but to the destroying of men’s souls. They put on indeed a cloke of piety and chastity, but under this deceit they conceal the filthiness of their acts, and from the recesses of their ungodly heart hurl shafts to wound the simple; that, as the prophet says, “they may shoot in darkness at the upright in heart18 .” A mighty bulwark is a sound faith, a true faith, to which nothing has to be added or taken away: because unless it is one, it is no faith, as the Apostle says, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all19 .” Cling to this unity, dearly beloved, with minds unshaken, and in it “follow after” all “holiness20 ,” in it carry out the Lord’s commands, because “without faith it is impossible to please God21 ,” and without it nothing is holy, nothing is pure, nothing alive: “for the just lives by faith22 ,” and he who by the devil’s deception loses it, is dead though living, because as righteousness is gained by faith, so too by a true faith is eternal life gained, as says our Lord and Saviour. And this is life eternal, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent23 . May He make you to advance and persevere to the end, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Cf. Serm. XXIII., chap. 4.
2 Instrumentis (lit. materials, stock-in-trade).
Gn 22,18,
4 Ps 31,14,
5 Is 7,14,
6 Is 11,1 in the interpretation that follows there is apparently play on the rod (virga) and the virgin.
7 Cf. 1Co 15,45, and Gn 2,7.
8 Gn 3,19,
9 1Co 15,48,
10 Ps 84,12,
11 Is 45,8,
12 See Introd. p. vi., and for details of their iniquity, Serm. XVI. chaps. 4 and 5 : the words proxima confessione fix the date of this sermon probably in 444 or 445).
13 Quod oequalitati tribuere deberet, singularitati dedit, cf. Lett. XV. chap. 2, where the Priscillianists’ notion (of a singularis unitas in tribus vocabulis sed non in trbus accipienda personis), is said to be taken from Sabellianism.
14 Cf. Ruff). de Symb. chap. 39, and Schaff, Ch. Hist., in loco, where the relation of Photinus to Marcellus is explained.
15 1P 2,9.
16 Chrisma (charisma, gift. Quesnel), salutis et signaculum vitoe aeternoe, the anointing and the sign of the cross are, as is well known, two of the oldest baptismal ceremonies; see Bingham, Antiq, Bk. 11,chap. 9.
17 Ga 1,9,
18 Ps 11,2,
19 Ep 4,5-6.
20 He 12,14,
21 He 11,6.
22 Ha 2,4.
23 Jn 17,3.

Sermon XXVI. On the Feast of the Nativity, VI.


I. Christmas Morning is the Most Appropriate Time for Thoughts on the Nativity.

On all days and at all times, dearly beloved, does the birth of our Lord and Saviour from the Virgin-mother occur to the thoughts of the faithful, who meditate on divine things, that the mind may be aroused to the acknowledgment of its Maker, and whether it be occupied in the groans of supplication, or in the shouting of praise, or in the offering of sacrifice, may employ its spiritual insight on nothing more frequently and more trustingly than on the fact that God the Son of God, begotten of the co-eternal Father, was also born by a human birth. But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature1 , there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery. For the angel Gabriel’s converse with the astonished Mary and her conception by the Holy Ghost as wondrously promised as believed, seem to recur not only to the memory but to the very eyes. For to day the Maker of the world was born of a Virgin’s womb, and He, who made all natures, became Son of her, whom He created. To-day the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and That which had never been visible to human eyes began to be tangible to our hands as well. Today the shepherds learnt from angels’ voices that the Saviour was born in the substance of our flesh and soul; and to-day the form of the Gospel message was pre-arranged by the leaders of the Lord’s flocks2 , so that we too may say with the arm), of the heavenly host: “Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace to men of good will.”

II. Christians are Essentially Participators in the Nativity of Christ.

Although, therefore, that infancy, which the majesty of God’s Son did not disdain, reached mature manhood by the growth of years and, when the triumph of His passion and resurrection was completed, all the actions of humility which were undertaken for us ceased, yet to-day’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary: and in adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life. For the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body. Although every individual that is called has his own order, and all the sons of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time, yet as the entire body of the faithful being born in the font of baptism is crucified with Christ in His passion, raised again in His resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in His ascension, so with Him are they born in this nativity. For any believer in whatever part of the world that is re-born in Christ, quits the old paths of his original nature3 and passes into a new man by being re-born; and no longer is he reckoned of his earthly father’s stock but among the seed of the Saviour, Who became the Son of man in order that we might have the power to be the sons of God. For unless He came down to us in this humiliation, no one would reach His presence by any merits of his own. Let not earthly wisdom shroud in darkness the hearts of the called on this point, and let not the frailty of earthly thoughts raise itself against the loftiness of God’s grace, for it will soon return to the lowest dust. At the end of the ages is fulfilled that which was ordained from all eternity: and in the presence of realities, when signs and types have ceased, the Law and prophecy have become Truth: and so Abraham is found the father of all nations, and the promised blessing is given to the world in his seed: nor are they only Israelites whom blood and flesh4 begot, but the whole body of the adopted eater into possession of the heritage prepared for the sons of Faith. Be not disturbed by the cavils of silly questionings, and let not the effects of the Divine word be dissipated by human calculation; we with Abraham believe in God and “waver not through unbelief5 ” but “know most assuredly that what the Lord promised, He is able to perform.”

III. Peace with God Is His Best Gift to Man.

The Saviour then, dearly beloved, is born not of fleshly seed but of the Holy Spirit, in such wise that the condemnation of the first transgression did not touch Him. And hence the very greatness of the boon conferred demands of us reverence worthy of its splendour. For, as the blessed Apostle teaches, “we have received not the spirit of this world but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are given us by God6 :” and that Spirit can in no other way be rightly worshipped, except by offering Him that which we received from Him. But in the treasures of the Lord’s bounty what can we find so suitable to the honour of the present feast as the peace, which at the Lord’s nativity was first proclaimed by the angel-choir? For that it is which brings forth the sons of God, the nurse of love and the mother of unity: the rest of the blessed and our eternal home; whose proper work and special office it is to join to God those whom it removes from the world. Whence the Apostle incites us to this good end, in saying, “being justified therefore by faith let us have peace towards God7 .” In which brief sentence are summed up nearly all the commandments; for where true peace is, there can be no lack of virtue. But what is it, dearly beloved, to have peace towards God, except to wish what He bids, and not to wish what He forbids? For if human friendships seek out equality of soul and similarity of desires, and difference of habits can never attain to full harmony, how will he be partaker of divine peace, who is pleased with what displeases God and desires to get delight from what he knows to be offensive to God? That is not the spirit of the sons of God; such wisdom is not acceptable to the noble family of the adopted. That chosen and royal race must live up to the dignity of its regeneration, must love what the Father loves, and in nought disagree with its Maker, lest the Lord should again say: “I have begotten and raised up sons, but they have scorned Me: the ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel hath not known Me and My people hath not acknowledged Me8 .”

IV. We Must Be Worthy of Our Calling as Sans and Friends of God.

The mystery of this boon is great, dearly beloved, and this gift exceeds all gifts that God should call man son, and man should name God Father: for by these terms we perceive and learn the love which reached so great a height. For if in natural progeny and earthly families those who are born of noble parents are lowered by the faults of evil intercourse, and unworthy offspring are put to shame by the very brilliance of their ancestry; to what end will they come who through love of the world do not fear to be outcast from the family of Christ? But if it gains the praise of men that the father’s glory should shine again in their descendants, how much more glorious is it for those who are born of God to regain the brightness of their Maker’s likeness and display in themselves Him Who begat them, as saith the Lord: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven9 ?” We know indeed, as the Apostle John says that “the whole world lieth in the evil one10 ,” and that by the stratagems of the Devil and his angels numberless attempts are made either to frighten man in his struggle upwards by adversity or to spoil him by prosperity, but “greater is He that is in us, than he that is against us11 ,” and they who have peace with God and are always saying to the Father with their whole hearts “thy will be done12 ” can be overcome in no battles, can be hurt by no assaults. For accusing ourselves in our confessions and refusing the spirit’s consent to our fleshly lusts, we stir up against us the enmity of him who is the author of sin, but secure a peace with God that nothing can destroy, by accepting His gracious service, in order that we may not only surrender ourselves in obedience to our King but also be united to Him by our free-will. For if we are like-minded, if we wish what He wishes, and disapprove what He disapproves, He will finish all our wars for us, He Who gave the will, will also give the power: so that we may be fellow-workers in His works, and with the exultation of Faith may utter that prophetic song: “the Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? the Lord is the defender of my life: of whom shall I be afraid13 ?”

V. The Birth of Christ is the Birth of Peace to the Church.

They then who “are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God14 ,” must offer to. the Father the unanimity of peace-loving sons, and all the members of adoption must meet in the First-begotten of the new creation, Who came to do not His own Will but His that sent Him; inasmuch as the Father in His gracious favour has adopted as His heirs not those that are discordant nor those that are unlike Him, but those that are in feeling and affection one. They that are re-modelled after one pattern must have a spirit like the model. The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace: for thus says the Apostle, “He is our peace, who made both one15 ;” since whether we be Jew or Gentile, “through Him we have access in one Spirit to the Father16 .” And it was this in particular that He taught His disciples before the day of His passion which He had of His own free-will fore-ordained, saying, “My peace I give unto you, My peace I leave for you17 ;” and lest under the general term the character of His peace should escape notice, He added. “not as the world give I unto you18 .” The world, He Says, has its friendships, and brings many that are apart into loving harmony. There are also minds which are equal in vices. and similarity of desires produces equality of affection. And if any are perchance to be found who are not pleased with what is mean and dishonourable, and who exclude from the terms of their connexion unlawful compacts, yet even such if they be either Jews, heretics or heathens19 , belong not to God’s friendship but to this world’s peace. But the peace of the spiritual and of catholics coming down from above and leading upwards refuses to hold communion with the lovers of the world resists all obstacles and flies from pernicious pleasures to true joys, as the Lord says: “Where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also20 :” that is, if what you love is below you will descend to the lowest depth: if what you love is above, you will reach the topmost height: thither may the Spirit of peace lead and bring us, whose wishes and feeling are at one, and who are of one mind in faith and hope and in charity: since “as many as are led by the Spirit of God these are sons of God21 ” Who reigneth with the Son and Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Nova etiam in elementis luce radiante, the phrase seems to point to an early service as the time of delivering this sermon (possibly the missa in gallicantu).
2 Apud Dominicorum proesules gregum hodie evangelizandi forma proecondita est. This clause has been taken to be an allusion to the reciting of the angelic hymn Gloria in Excelsis, at the Holy Eucharist, but as Bright (note 20, all of which should be read) says, " the words do not necessarily mean more than that the original Angelic hymn (
Lc 2,14) was recited in the Christmas Day Service.
3 Interciso originalis tramite vetustatis.
4 Sanguis et caro : it is noticeable that the same order is observed in He 2,14.
5 Rm 4,20-21.
6 1Co 2,12.
7 Rm 5,1,
8 Is 1,2-3.
9 Mt 5,16.
10 1Jn 5,19.
11 Cf. 1Jn 4,4 2R 6,16.
12 Mt 6,10.
13 Ps 27,1,
14 Jn 1,13.
15 Ep 2,14 Ep 2,18.
16 Ep 2,14 Ep 2,18.
17 Jn 14,27.
18 Ib.
19 Pagani (lit. villagers or rustics): the later meaning arose from the fact that idolatry and superstition tend to linger longer in out-of-the-way rural districts, than in the more civilized towns: cf. “heath” and “heathen.” See Bright’s note 24, and the references quoted by him. Hooker, 5,80. 2 ; Trench, on Study of Words," p.69, &c
20 Mt 6,21.
21 Rm 8,14,

Sermon XXVII. On the Feast of the Nativity, VII.


I. It is Equally Dangerous to Deny the Godhead or the Manhood in Christ.

(He is a true and devout worshipper, dearly-beloved, of to-day’s festival who thinks nothing that is either false about the Lord’s Incarnation or unworthy about His Godhead. For it is an equally dangerous evil to deny in Him the reality of our nature and the equality with the Father in glory. When, therefore, we attempt to understand the mystery of Christ’s nativity, wherein He was born of the Virgin-mother, let all the clouds of earthly reasonings be driven far away and the smoke of worldly wisdom be purged from the eyes of illuminated faith: for the authority on which we trust is divine, the teaching which we follow is divine. Inasmuch as whether it be the testimony of the Law, or the oracles of the prophets, or the trumpet of the gospel to which we apply our inward ear, that is true which the blessed John full of the Holy Spirit uttered with his voice of thunder1 : “in the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was nothing made2 .” And similarly is it true what the same preacher added: “the Word became flesh and dwelt in us: and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father3 .” Therefore in both natures it is the same Son of God taking what is ours and not losing what is His own; renewing man in His manhood, but enduring unchangeable in Himself. For the Godhead which is His in common with the Father un lerwent no loss of omnipotence, nor did the “form of a slave” do despite to the “form of God,” because the supreme and eternal Essence, which lowered Itself for the salvation of mankind, transferred us into Its glory, but did not cease to be what It was. And hence when the Only-begotten of God confesses Himself less than the Father4 , and yet calls Himself equal with Him5 , He demonstrates the reality of both forms in Himself: so thai the inequality proves the human nature, and the equality the Divine.

II. The Incarnation Has Changed All the Possibilities of Man’s Existence.

The bodily Nativity therefore of the Son of God took nothing from and added nothing to His Majesty because His unchangeable substance could be neither diminished nor increased. For that “the Word became flesh” does not signify that the nature of God was changed into flesh, but that the Word took the flesh into the unity of His Person: and therein undoubtedly the whole man was received, with which within the Virgin’s womb fecundated by the Holy Spirit, whose virginity was destined never to be lost6 , the Son of God was so inseparably united that He who was born without time of the Father’s essence was Himself in time born of the Virgin’s womb. For we could not otherwise be released from the chains of eternal death but by Him becoming humble in our nature, Who remained Almighty in His own. And so our Lord Jesus Christ, being at birth true man though He never ceased to be true God, made in Himself the beginning of a new creation, and in the “form” of His birth started the spiritual life of mankind afresh, that to abolish the taint of our birth according to the flesh there might be a possibility of regeneration without our sinful seed for those of whom it is said, “Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God7 .” What mind can grasp this mystery, what tongue can express this gracious act? Sinfulness returns to guiltlessness and the old nature becomes new; strangers receive adoption and outsiders enter upon an inheritance. The ungodly begin to be righteous, the miserly benevolent, the incontinent chaste, the earthly heavenly. And whence comes this change, save by the right hand of the Most High? For the Son of God came to “destroy the works of the devil8 ,”and has so united Himself with us and us with Him that the descent of God to man’s estate became the exaltation of man to God’s.

III. The Devil Knows Exactly What Temptations to Offer to Each Several Person.

But in this mercifulness of God, dearly beloved, the greatness of which towards us we cannot explain, Christians must be extremely careful lest they be caught again in the devil’s wiles and once more entangled in the errors which they have renounced. For the old enemy does not cease to “transform himself into an angel of light9 ,” and spread everywhere the snares of his deceptions, and make every effort to corrupt the faith of believers. He knows whom to ply with the zest of greed, whom to assail with the allurements of the belly, before whom to set the attractions of self-indulgence, in whom to instil the poison of jealousy: he knows whom to overwhelm with grief, whom to cheat with joy, whom to surprise with fear, whom to bewilder with wonderment: there is no one whose habits he does not sift, whose cares he does not winnow, whose affections he does not pry into: and wherever he sees a man most absorbed in occupation, there he seeks opportunity to injure him. Moreover he has many whom he has bound still more tightly because they are suited for his designs, that he may use their abilities and tongues to deceive others. Through them are guaranteed the healing of sicknesses, the prognosticating of future, events, the appeasing of demons and the driving away of apparitions10 . They also are to be added11 who falsely allege that the entire condition of human life depends on the influences of the stars, and that that which is really either the divine will or ours rests with the unchangeable fates. And yet, in order to do still greater harm, they promise that they can be changed if supplication is made to those constellations which are adverse. And thus their ungodly fabrications destroy themselves; for if their predictions are not reliable, the fates are not to be feared: if they are, the stars are not to be venerated.

IV. The Foolish Practice of Some Who Turn to the Sun and Bow to It is Reprehensible.

From such a system of teaching proceeds also the ungodly practice of certain foolish folk who worship the sun as it rises at the beginning of daylight from elevated positions: even some Christians think it is so proper to do this that, before entering the blessed Apostle Peter’s basilica, which is dedicated to the One Living and true God, when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform12 , they turn round and bow themselves towards the rising sun and with bent neck do homage to its brilliant orb. We are full of grief and vexation that this should happen, which is partly due to the fault of ignorance and partly to the spirit of heathenism: because although some of them do perhaps worship the Creator of that fair light rather than the Light itself, which is His creature, yet we must abstain even flora the appearance of this observance: for if one who has abandoned the worship of gods, finds it in our own worship, will he not hark back again to this fragment of his old superstition, as if it were allowable, when he sees it to be common both to Christians and to infidels?

V. The Sun and Moon Were Created for Use, Not for Worship.

This objectionable practice must be given up therefore by the faithful, and the honour due to God alone must not be mixed up with those men’s rites who serve their fellow-creatures. For the divine Scripture says: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve13 .” Anti the blessed Job, “a man without complaint,” as the Lord says, “and one that eschews every evil14 ,” said, “Have I seen the sun when it shone or the moon walking brightly, and my heart hath rejoiced in secret, and I have kissed my hand: what is my great iniquity and denial against the most High God15 ?” But what is the sun or what is the moon but elements of visible creation and material light: one of which is of greater brightness and the other of lesser light? For as it is now day time and now night time, so the Creator has constituted divers kinds of luminaries, although even before they were made there had been days without the sun and nights without the moon16 . But these were fashioned to serve in making man, that he who is an animal endowed with reason might be sure of the distinction of the months, the recurrence of the year, and the variety of the seasons, since through the unequal length of the various periods, and the clear indications given by the changes in its risings, the sun doses the year and the moon renews the months. For on the fourth day, as we read, God said: “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, and let them shine upon the earth, and let them divide between day and night, and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be in the firmament of heaven that they may shine upon earth.”

VI. Let Us Awake to the Proper Use of All Our Parts and Facilities.

Awake, O man, and recognize the dignity of thy nature. Recollect thou wast made in the image of God, which although it was corrupted in Adam, was yet re-fashioned in Christ. Use visible creatures as they should be used, as thou usest earth, sea, sky, air, springs, and rivers: and whatever in them is fair and wondrous, ascribe to the praise and glory of the Maker. Be not subject to that light wherein birds and serpents, beasts and cattle, flies and worms delight. Confine the material light to your bodily senses, and with all your mental powers embrace that “true light which lighteth every man that cometh into this world17 ,” and of which the prophet says, “Come unto Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not blush18 .” For if we “are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in19 ” us, what every one of the faithful has in his own heart is more than what he wonders at in heaven. And so, dearly beloved, we do not bid or advise you to despise God’s works or to think there is anything opposed to your Faith in what the good God has made good, but to use every kind of creature and the whole furniture of this world reasonably and moderately: for as the Apostle says, “the things which are seen are temporal: but the things which are not seen are eternal20 .” Hence because we are born for the present and reborn for the future, let us not give ourselves up to temporal goods, but to eternal: and in order that we may behold our hope nearer, let us think on what the Divine Grace has bestowed on our nature on the very occasion when we celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s birthday. Let us hear the Apostle, saying: “for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. But when Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory21 :” who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen.

1  Intonuit, no doubt a reference to the name of Boanerges (sons of thunder) which he shared with his brother James (
Mc 3,17).
2 Jn 1,1-3 Jn 1,14.
3 Jn 1,1-3 Jn 1,14.
4 Jn 14,28 Jn 10,30.
5 Jn 14,28 Jn 10,30.
6 Et nunquam virginitate caritura, cf. Letter XXVIII. (Tome) chap. 2, beatam Mariam semper virginem : these two passages seem to me much stronger than others quoted by Bright, n. 9, to prove Leo’s belief in the perpetual virginity of the blessed Mary).
7 Jn 1,13.
8 1Jn 3,8.
9 2Co 11,14,
10 Umbrarum.
11 CL Lett. XV. chaps. 12-14. where such opinions are put down to the Spanish Prisilliansts, though doubtless Leo is thinking here rather of the Manichoens, from whom they derived so many of their false views.
12 Suggestum areoe superioris : the older reading was aroe: some of the mss. again read arcoe which is no doubt midway between the two. A learned disertation on this passage by Ciampini quoted by Quesnel (Migne’s Patrol. 1,pp 529-534), established the true reading: he says also that this was the staircase up which the faithful climbed on bended knee in approaching the Vatican basilica.S. Leo has alluded to this curious practice already in Serm. XXII. chap. 6, supra. It is perhaps hardly necessary to add that this superstition has little, If any, connexion with the Christian habit of turning to the East, which is probably rather to the Altar as the centre of worship; for at all events in Western Christendom churches do not by any means universally orientate’ (i.e. lie due east and west).
13 Mt 4,10.
14 Jb 1,8,
15 Jb 31,26-28.
16 (He is of course following the Mosaic order creation, where the creation of the day and night is ascribed to the first day and that of the Sun and Moon to the fourth day Gn 1,5 Gn 1,19).
17 Jn 1,9.
18 Ps 34,5,
19 1Co 3,16.
20 2Co 4,18,
21 Col 3,3-4.

Leo the Great: sermons 2024