THE SERMONS OF ST ANTONY
THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT
(The Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent: Jesus was casting out a devil, which is divided into five clauses.)
(First, a sermon on the usefulness of preaching: Whensoever the evil spirit from the Lord.)
1. At that time: Jesus was casting out a devil, and the same was dumb. And when he had cast out the devil, the dumb spoke; and the multitudes were in admiration of it. [Lk 11.14]
We read in the first book of Kings:
Whensoever the evil spirit from the Lord was upon Saul, David took his harp, and played with his hand; and Saul was refreshed, and was better, for the evil spirit departed from him. [1Kg(Sm) 16.23]
The evil spirit from the Lord is the devil. He is ‘from the Lord’, because he was created by Him; he is evil because of his own malice. He was changed from light-bearer to dark-bearer, from angel to devil. That is why he is called ‘devil’, the ‘outcast’. He seizes Saul (whose name means ‘abuser’), the sinner whom, as Job says,
God hath given[him] place for penance; and he abuseth it unto pride, [Job 24.23]
when he draws him on from sin to sin. But David (that is to say, the preacher) must take his harp, the most sweet music of his preaching, and strike it with the hand of his operation; and so the sweetness of the harp, the power of the Lord’s preaching, will lessen the sinner’s fever and drive the devil from him. And this is told in today’s Gospel, Jesus was casting out a devil.
2. There are four parts to the Gospel, and for God’s honour and the benefit of our hearers we will try to present a brief sermon on each.
The first part begins: Jesus was casting out a devil.
The second begins: When a strong man armed.
The third begins, When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man.
The fourth begins, A certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice.
Similarly with the story from Genesis in this week’s Office readings:
The first part deals with the selling of Joseph into slavery.
The second tells of his imprisonment, and the interpretation of the butler’s and baker’s dreams.
The third tells of the seven cows, the seven ears of corn, and the seven years of famine.
The fourth tells of the freeing of all Egypt by the industry of Joseph himself.
In the name of Jesus Christ, then, we will speak of the first part of the Gospel.
(A sermon for penitents or enclosed religious: Joseph was sent from the valley of Hebron, and on the nature of the curlew bird.)
3. Jesus was casting out a devil. See how the Lord Jesus worked four miracles in a single man: he gave sight to the blind (for Matthew reports that the demoniac was blind too); he made the dumb speak and the deaf hear; and he freed him from a devil. Let us see how the Lord does this every day, spiritually, for sinners in Holy Church; and let us see the moral significance of each.
Jesus was casting out a devil. Note carefully that, just as this demoniac had lost the natural power of the three principal senses, nobler than the rest (seeing, speaking, hearing), so the sinner possessed by the devil through mortal sin loses the spiritual power in those three senses of his soul which are higher and more important than the rest, seeing, speaking and hearing. By ‘seeing’, we mean knowledge; by ‘speaking’, confession; and by ‘hearing’, obedience. He sees clearly, who recognises his own wickedness. He speaks rightly, who starkly and openly confesses the wickedness he knows. He hears acutely, who freely obeys the voice of his confessor.
There is a concordance to these three things in the first part of the Office reading for this Sunday, where it says that Joseph, being sent from the valley of Hebron, came to Sichem, and from Sichem to Dothain [cf. Gen 37.14-17]. Joseph means ‘growing’, Hebron is ‘vision’, Sichem is ‘labour’ and Dothain is ‘failing’. Joseph is the penitent who grows in God’s sight, to the extent that he is lessened in his own eyes. So the Lord said to Saul:
When thou wast a little one in thine own eyes, I made the the head of the tribes of Israel. [1Kg(Sm) 15.17]
In the valley of Hebron (vision) there is the recognition of sin; in Sichem, the labour of confession; in Dothain, the ceasing of self-will.
So the penitent, sent from the valley of Hebron, comes to Sichem. The vale of Hebron, or vision, is the recognition of sin; as Jeremiah says: See thy ways in the valley [Jer 2.23]. In the valley, the double humility which is both external and internal, you should ‘see your ways’, know your sins by which you, as by several roads, are heading for hell. The psalmist says:
I have thought on my ways; and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. [Ps 118.59]
And Jeremiah again:
Know thou and see[i.e. recognize] that it is an evil and a bitter thing for thee, to have left the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not with thee, saith the Lord, the God of Hosts. [Jer 2.19]
Lift up thy eyes on high, and see where thou hast not prostituted thyself. [Jer 3.2]
Note the words, ‘on high’. Alas! How few there are who lift up their eyes on high. Nearly all look sideways, like squinters. Without a doubt, the person who sees things straight is the one who recognizes his own wrong-doing, just as he committed it, and confesses it straight out too, just as he sees it, down to the last detail. So lift up your eyes and see straight, not sideways! Do not be embarrassed, do not be afraid! Those feelings often prevent you from seeing straight. It is said that there is a certain bird, and if it looks with the direct gaze of its eyes upon a sick person, that sick person will be altogether cured; but if the bird turns away its eyes from the face of the sick man, or only looks sideways, that is a sign of death. So the sinner, if he lifts up his eyes on high, and sees and recognizes his sins, believe me, He shall surely live, he shall not die [Ezek 33.15]. But if he looks sideways at them, disguising or glossing over his sins as he confesses them, it is a sign and indication of eternal damnation. So, lift up your eyes on high, and see, recognize where- in so great a misery- now you are prostituted, who previously were mistress of the nations- the vices- prince of provinces- the five senses- being made tributary to the devil and to sin [cf. Lam 1.1].
4. It is a good thing then, dear brothers, to live in the valley of Hebron, to see and know first our guilt and wickedness, and then to come to Sichem, labour, to a confession which is truly labour and sorrow. As the Prophet Micah says,
Be in pain and labour, O daughter of Sion, as a woman that bringeth forth. [Mic 4.10]
O daughter, O soul- who are and who should be daughter of Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem- be in pain in contrition, and in labour enough, like a woman in childbirth, in confession. Yes, like a woman in childbirth! Just as a woman giving birth labours and is in pain, so the sinner must labour and be in pain in confession; like the female deer who gives birth in pain and labour, as Job says:
Hinds bow themselves to bring forth young; and they cast them and send forth roarings. [Job 39.3]
The hinds are penitents, who ought to bow down and humble themselves before the priest, and bring forth their sins, and give out the most bitter groans. But alas! alas! How many there are today who bring forth, not like hinds, but like horses. Natural History says that horses feel no pain when they bear, and that the smoke of a quenched lamp makes them miscarry. So some sinners, when the confess, bring forth their sins without labour or pain, whereas the Lord says,
a woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, [Jn 16.21]
and when the lamp of faith is extinguished in such folk, the smoke of concupiscence arises, and they miscarry, bringing forth sin. Wherefore St James says:
When concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death. [Jas 1.15]
Hear how holy Job (that is ‘sorrowing’) came from the valley of Hebron to Sichem, when he said:
I will not spare my mouth, I will speak in the affliction of my spirit:
I will talk with the bitterness of my soul. [Job 7.11]
There is a brief, but very useful, form of confession! He spares not his mouth, who nakedly and openly confesses his sins and the relevant circumstances. He speaks from the affliction of his spirit, who with a broken heart and contrite spirit accuses himself, blames himself and judges himself. He talks with the bitterness of his soul, who keeps nothing back, but time and time again renews his sorrow. Putting himself entirely in the priest’s hands, he says with Saul:
Lord, Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?[Acts 9.6]
So, appropriately, there is added: And from Sichem he came to Dothain (‘failing’). The penitent should not rely upon himself, but should freely obey the instructions of his confessor, his superior; saying with Samuel:
Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth. [1Kg(Sm) 3.10]
All of this makes clear what the penitent should see, speak and hear. Yet because whatever is said can be even better understood when contrasted with its opposite, let us see what we can say about the opposites of these three things.
(A sermon on the blindness of the sinner: As soon as Joseph came, and on the property of the swan.)
5. Jesus was casting out a devil. This devil is the wild beast referred to in today’s lesson, where Jacob says:
An evil wild beast hath eaten him; a beast hath devoured Joseph. [Gen 37.33]
Let us see how this beast devours Joseph. We said above that the devil brings three evils upon the possessed man: he takes away light, and deprives him of voice and hearing. Just so, from the sinner in mortal sin, he takes away light (lest he recognize his sin), he deprives him of voice (lest he disclose his sin in confession), he stops his ears, which will not hear the voice of the wizard that charmeth wisely [cf. Ps 57.6]. To these three things there is a concordance in the Genesis story:
As soon as Joseph came to his brethren, they forthwith stript him of his outside coat, that was of divers colours; and cast him into an old pit, where there was no water... and they drew him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ismaelites; and they led him into Egypt. [Gen 37.23-24,28]
Notice these three expressions: they stripped off his coat, they cast him into a pit, and they sold him.
The ‘outside coat of divers colours’ represents knowledge of sins. Towards the end of St John’s Gospel we are told that:
Peter girt his coat about him (for he was naked) and cast himself into the sea. [Jn 21.7]
Peter was indeed naked, when he denied Christ at the voice of the maidservant; but he girded his coat about him when he recognized the guilt of his threefold denial. Then he was truly Peter, ‘the one who recognizes’, and so he cast himself into the sea, into bitter weeping. So Luke tells us:
Peter remembered the word of Jesus, as he said: Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And going out, he wept bitterly. [Lk 22.61-62]
In this same way the sinner should gird himself, recognize his iniquity, and cast himself into the sea, the bitterness of contrition. However, there are many today who gird themselves, who recognize their fault, but are unwilling to cast themselves into the sea, because they refuse to do penance for their sins.
Joseph’s coat is ankle-length and many-coloured. Our soul’s coat, knowledge of our sins, should also be ‘ankle-length’, covering everything. While we should daily acknowledge and lament our sins, all through our life, we should do so especially at our life’s end, even more devoutly and diligently. We should recognize and confess them in general and in particular. We should imitate the swan, which, when it dies, dies singing. This is supposed to be due to a certain feather in its throat; and, even so, that song is painful to it. The white swan is the converted sinner, made whiter than snow. At the point of death he should sing devoutly, recognizing his sin in bitterness of heart. The feather in the swan’s throat is knowledge and confession of sin in the mouth of the just. From it should proceed a song that is painful, but very fruitful. In this way the long coat is also many-coloured, decorated with a variety of virtues. In the end, the song is all praise. But alas, alas! The devils strip Joseph of this precious coat, when they blind the eyes of the unhappy soul, taking away the knowledge of his wickedness, lest he see and recognize the shame and disgrace of his nakedness.
Then, secondly, they cast him into an old pit, where there was no water. The old, waterless pit is the mind of the sinner who has grown old in evil days [Dan 13.52]. It contains no water of confession, no tears of compunction. The sinner is shut up by the devils in the pit of obstinacy, lest he be able to get out into the light of confession. So, in the fourth book of Kings, we read how Nabuchodonosor put out the eyes of Sedecias, and bound him with chains, and brought him to Babylon [cf. 4(2)Kg 25.7]. In the same way the devil plucks out the sinner’s eyes, lest he recognize his wickedness, and then binds him with the chains of bad habit, and puts him in the prison of obstinacy, lest he get out into the light of confession.
Thirdly, they sold him to the Ismaelite merchants, who led him into Egypt. The sinner is sold and taken into Egypt when he withdraws himself from the Church’s preaching, and does not submit to the counsel of good people, stopping his ear lest he hear the voice that charms him wisely. Truly, someone like that is a demoniac possessed by the devil, for he will not see the guilt of his iniquity, nor speak in confession, nor hear the words of eternal life. But what does the good and kind Jesus do?
(A sermon on the Passion of Christ: Be ye followers of God.)
6. Luke says: Jesus was casting out a devil. Jesus casts out the devil from sinners when he prints on them the title of his love, and puts in their hearts the seal of his Passion. Just so, St. Paul says in today’s Epistle:
Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness. [Eph 5.1-2]
In this text there are two points to note: the love of Christ and his Passion. These two draw out the devil. Because of the exceeding love with which he loved us, he delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness. The scent of this evening sacrifice, the Passion of Jesus Christ, casts out every devil. Thus it says in the Book of Tobias that:
Tobias took out of his bag part of the liver, and laid it upon burning coals. Then the angel Raphael took the devil, and bound him in the desert of upper Egypt. [Tob 8.2-3]
The liver (which is the organ by which we love) stands for the love of Christ, and the live coals are his Passion. We put part of the liver, if not the whole liver, on burning coals when we recall how the Son of God, our love ( and I might say, ‘our liver’), solely for love of us was laid on the living coals of his Cross and sharp nails, as an odour of sweetness. Believe me, brothers, this odour of sweetness, the memorial of our Lord’s Passion, casts out every devil. If we do this, Raphael (‘healing’), who is Jesus Christ himself, our cure and angel of great counsel, will seize the devil and bind him in the desert of upper Egypt, so that he may not harm us any more.
Well said, then, Jesus was casting out a devil! When he had cast the devil out, the man saw, spoke and heard, and the crowds were full of wonder. No wonder! For with the ceasing of the cause, the effect ceased too. When the devil of mortal sin is cast out of the sinner’s heart, immediately he begins to see (know), speak (confess) and hear (obey). So the Apostle says at the end of today’s Epistle:
For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth. [Eph 5.8-9]
Note those three words: ‘in all goodness’- the knowledge of sin, without which no-one can attain goodness, whereby the good penitent said: I acknowledge my wickedness [Ps 50.5]; ‘in justice’- the confession of sin. What greater justice than to accuse oneself? Solomon says: The just is first accuser of himself [Prov 18.17]; ‘and truth’- obedience, which is freely to obey the precepts of Truth: Jesus Christ and his representative.
Let us render thanks to Jesus Christ the Son of God, who cast out the devil, enlightened the blind, and made the dumb to speak and the deaf to hear. Let us all together, with devout minds, pray and humbly beseech Christ himself, to cast out mortal sin from the heart of every Christian, and to pour into them the grace of God, so that each may know his iniquity and reveal it in confession, and faithfully obey the advice and instructions of his confessor. May Jesus Christ himself grant this to us and to you. To him be honour, majesty, dominion, praise and glory for ever and ever. Let every creature say: Amen!
(The second clause.
First, a sermon for the preacher: His bow rested upon the strong.)
7. When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth. But if a stronger than he come upon him and overcome him, he will take away all his armour wherein he trusted and will distribute his spoils. [Lk 11.21-22]
In the blessing of Joseph, towards the end of Genesis, it says:
His bow rested upon the strong. [Gen 49.24]
Joseph means ‘increase’, and he stands for the preacher who should daily increase the Church by his preaching, so that he may say with Joseph:
God hath made me grow in the land of my poverty. [Gen 41.52]
In the land of poverty- that is to say, in the exile of our wretched earthly pilgrimage- God makes the preacher grow when, through him, he makes the number of the faithful to increase, to the preacher’s merit. His bow is preaching; and as a bow has two parts, the wood and the string, so in preaching there must be the wood of the Old Testament and the string of the New. Of this bow, Job says:
My bow in my hand shall be repaired. [Job 29.20]
The bow in his hand is strengthened when preaching is supported by action. According to St Bernard1, "For the fruitful preaching of God, it is not enough, unless one precedes the sound of the voice with the witness of work." This bow must rest on the strong, not on the weak; not on the preacher, but on Christ, so that all may be attributed to Him without whom the preacher can achieve nothing good. He is really ‘the strong man’, because he binds the strong devil. That is why it says in this Gospel, When a strong man armed keepeth his court .. We will expound this second clause of the Gospel, first allegorically and then morally.
(A sermon on the devil’s armour and his warfare: There went out a man baseborn, and on the spider’s web and its property.)
8. The strong man armed is the devil. Of him and his armour, the book of Kings says:
And there went out a man baseborn from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath of Geth, whose height was six cubits and a span. And he had a helmet of brass upon his head; and he was clothed with a coat of mail with hooks ... And he had greaves of brass on his legs, and a buckler of brass covered his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam. [1Kg(Sm) 16.4-7]
Goliath means ‘crossing over’, or ‘changing shape’, and he represents the devil, who crosses over from virtue to vice, from joy to punishment. Every day he changes himself into an angel of light [cf. 2Cor 11.14], to deceive man. He is ‘of Geth’, a wine-press, because the devil squeezes man under the pressure of tribulation, as grapes are squeezed in a wine-press, so that the good may be stored like wine in the cellar of eternal life, but the bad may be cast like sour grapes onto the dunghill of eternal damnation. He goes out from the camp of the Philistines (meaning, ‘falling from drink’), of sinners who, being drunk with love of the world, fall from God’s grace in their guilt, and from guilt fall in ruin into hell. The devil dwells in their camp, because the heart of the wicked man is the devil’s guest-house. The Gloss on Habbakuk, I saw the tents of Ethiopia for their iniquity [Hab 3.7], says, "Those who labour for riches and honours become the hospice of devils, whereas they should be the Temple of God."
Goliath was ‘baseborn’, the word meaning someone partly of noble, partly of common origin. The devil was noble by his creation, ignoble from his vices. He is said to have been in height, six cubits and a span. We read in Ezekiel:
The man whose appearance was like brass had a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed in his hand with which he measured the temple; and the measuring reed was six cubits and a handbreadth. [Ezek 40.3,5]
The measure of the temple is the same as that of Goliath. The measure of the temple consists in the different degrees in the Church, against which the devil has his own measure. By the six cubits we understand the works of mercy, the works of the active life; by the span, those of the contemplative life, of which we have barely a foretaste in this life, which is why it is called a ‘handbreadth’. The devil stretches himself against both actives and contemplatives.
And a helmet of brass was on his head. All Goliath’s armour was of brass, like the armour of the devil. The devil’s armour is formed of those who defend the devil, lest he be slain in his wicked deeds. They are brazen, strong enough to defend his every part. So Job says:
His bones are like pipes of brass. [Job 40.13]
The bones support the flesh; the bones of the devil are those who support others in evil. They are like pipes of brass, because like pipes they have sound only, and not sense. They speak words, but do no good. As brass resonates when struck, so these folk murmur at the blow of rebuke.
And he wore a coat of mail with hooks, to fasten blemish to blemish. The devil’s breastplate is all those evil folk inseparably joined to him. As Job says;
His body is like molten shields, shut close up with scales pressing one upon another. One is joined to another, and not so much as any air can come between them; they stick one to another and they hold. one another fast, and shall not be separated. [Job 41.6-8]
The devil’s ‘scales’, his defenders, press upon one another, because one defends another. "Concord is a great thing for the weak."2 They are so joined together that not a breath of divine grace, nor of dominical preaching, can get between them. In the same way that they are accomplices in evil here, so hereafter they will share together an eternal punishment.
He had greaves of brass upon his legs. The greaves are excuses made for lust. When the lustful defends the sin of lust, he as it were protects his loins with greaves, to his greater damnation. Job says: The shades cover his shadow [Job 40.17]. The shades, dark and gloomy, are the lustful who cover the devil’s shadow when they defend their lust, sleeping and taking their rest under him.
And a buckler of brass covered his shoulders. The devil’s shield is those who repel from themselves the arrows of preaching, of which the Lord says in Ezekiel:
Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious people that hath revolted from me. Speak my words to them, if perhaps they will hear and forbear: for they provoke me to anger ... But they will not hearken to thee, because they will not hearken to me. [Ezek 2.3,7; 3.7]
9. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam. By help of this staff, the web is woven. This is evil temptation, by means of which the devil weaves the web of wickedness. The devil spins his web like a spider, of which Natural History tells us: "The spider first puts forth the thread of her web, and fastens it at the ends. Then she weaves in the middle, between these ends, and so produces a web strong enough, in a conveniently prepared place, for hunting. She comes into the middle, as one lying in wait for some small beast. If some fly, or the like, falls in- at once the spider moves, leaving her place and starting to bind it and wind it round with the web, until she reaches the point where the prey is helpless. Then, when she feels hungry, she sucks the moisture from it; and without that moisture she cannot live."
In the same way, when the devil wants to catch a man, he first puts out the slender thread of subtle thought, and fixes it at the ends, the senses of the body. By this, he can craftily find out to which vice the man is most susceptible. Then, in the midst- the heart- he weaves a web of temptation, sufficiently strong and in a conveniently prepared place for hunting. He comes to the middle, as one lying in wait for some small creature. The devil finds no member, in all the human body, which is so suitable for hunting, lying in wait and deceiving, as the human heart: for that is the very source of life. And if he sees any fly- anything carnal, that may be called a fly- fall into the web of his suggestion by the consent of the heart, then straightway he begins to bind it with all sorts of temptations, to wind it in darkness until it becomes helpless and enfeebled in mind. So he bears away that fly, the sinner, to a place where he keeps what he has caught. The devil’s own place is the commission of an evil action, and in it he puts what he has ensnared by the web of temptation. So he sucks their moisture, the compunction of the soul; for while the soul has that, the devil cannot hurt it. How appropriate the words: The staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam!
(A sermon on Christ’s armour and his victory: He put on justice as a breastplate.)
10. This, then, is how the devil is armed. It is of him that it is said, When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth. Before Christ’s coming, the devil’s court was the whole world, not in virtue of creation, but because of the fall of our first parent, for whose disobedience the devil had power over his posterity, by God’s permission. He possessed everything in peace, because neither Moses, nor Elias, nor Jeremias, nor any of the Old Testament Fathers, was able to drive him out of his court. But from the royal throne, from the bosom of the Father, a fierce conqueror came, as the Book of Wisdom tells [Wisd 18.15], and leaped down into the land of destruction, which the devil had destroyed, upon the joined feet of divinity and humanity. So, as the Apostle says to the Hebrews, he delivered those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to servitude [Heb 2.15].
So there follows: But if a stronger than he cometh upon him and overcome him, he will take away all his armour wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils. This stronger man is Jesus Christ, of whose armour Isaiah says:
He put on justice as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head.
He put on the garments of vengeance and was clad with zeal as with a cloak. [Is 59.17]
The breastplate of Jesus Christ is justice, whereby he justly expelled the devil from the court which he had possessed in peace. Because the devil stretched out his hand against Christ, in whom he had nothing, he justly deserved to lose Adam and his posterity, in whom he seemed to have something. Whoever abuses a privilege granted him, deserves to lose his privilege.
And a helmet of salvation upon his head. His head is the Divinity. The head of Jesus Christ is God, says the Apostle [1Cor 11.3]. The helmet is his humanity. The head hidden beneath the helmet is the Divinity hidden under the humanity, which worked salvation in the midst of the earth [Ps 73.12]. He put on also the garments of vengeance, and was clad with zeal as with a cloak. Jesus Christ took the garments of our humanity to this end, that he might take vengeance on our enemy the devil, and free his spouse, our soul, from his hands. Thus, if a stronger than he cometh upon him and overcome him, he will take away his armour. The devil’s armour is what we described earlier. Christ took it all away from him when he made children of grace out of children of wrath. David cast down Goliath with a sling and a stone [cf. 1Kg(Sm) 17.49-50], and in the same way Christ conquered the devil with the sling of humanity and the stone of his Passion. So David says:
Take hold of arms and shield; and rise up to help me. [Ps 34.2]
Take up arms, O Son of God, your human limbs; and a shield, your Cross; that so armed you may overcome the strong devil who held the human race captive in prison.
11. This is our Joseph, who was nailed to the cross as in a prison, bound hand and foot between two thieves. Joseph the son of Jacob would not give into the foul lust of a harlot. He fled, leaving his cloak in her hands, whereby she had tried to hold him; and so she accused him to Potiphar her husband, saying that he had tried to seduce her. Angered, he put him in prison, where the cup-bearer and the baker of the king of Egypt were held captive. By rightly interpreting their dreams, he gave them a true and certain prediction of what would happen. The cup-bearer would leave prison for the king’s palace; the baker would be taken from prison to be hanged on the gallows [cf. Gen 39.7-20; 40.1-22]. Similarly, Jesus Christ the Son of God would not consent to the faithless harlot, the Jewish Synagogue, which would have held him by the cloak of legal observances and the tradition of the elders. They covered themselves with these, as with a cloak, to appear righteous before men. He, however, cast off the cloak, the rite of legal observance, and fled; because he was Lord of the Law, not its slave. When the Synagogue saw itself despised, it accused him to Potiphar. Potiphar means ‘a mouth inclined to cut up’, and he represents Pilate, who inclined his mouth to cut up Jesus, that is, to scourge him: I will scourge him and hand him over to you [cf. Mt 27.26; Lk 23.16].
The harlot Synagogue accused our Joseph to this man, saying:
We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar ... He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee to this place. [Lk 23.2,5]
Pilate, giving in to the harlot’s words, gave sentence in favour of their petition, and handed Jesus over to be crucified. Nailed to the Cross between two thieves, he resembled Joseph bound between the cup-bearer and the baker. One thief (I might more truly call him a holy confessor, because he confessed Christ, when Peter denied him) was truly the cup-bearer. Inebriated by the wine of compunction, he offered the Lord the golden cup of faith, hope and charity, saying:
Remember me, Lord, when thou shalt come into thy kingdom. [Lk 23.42]
So he was found worthy to hear:
Amen, I say to thee: This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise. [Ibid, v 43]
The other, faithless, thief blasphemed Christ, saying,
If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.
He was the baker, who by baker’s skill made bread, not (I’d say) from wheat, but from the bran of ill-will and the water of faithlessness, and baked it in the oven of despair. So from the Cross, as from prison, he deserved to go to the gallows of eternal damnation.
12. There follows: And he will distribute his spoils. The devil’s spoils are the souls of the just, which were held in darkness because of our first parent’s disobedience. Christ distributed these spoils when he despoiled hell, and bestowed glory on each soul in the heavenly kingdom. Alternatively, the spoils are the Apostles and other disciples of Jesus Christ, concerning which the Father said to the Son, in Isaiah:
Hasten to take away the spoils; make haste to take away the prey. [Is 8.3]
O Son, hasten to the Incarnation! Take away the spoils by your preaching. Make haste to take away the devil’s prey in your Passion! Christ distributed these spoils when he gave some to be apostles, some evangelists, some teachers of the Church. As the prophet says:
The king of powers is of the beloved, of the beloved:
and the beauty of the house shall divide spoils.[Ps 67.13]
O beloved faithful! The king of the beloved Jesus Christ, the Father who is king of the heavenly powers, will give his beloved Son (of whom he said, This is my beloved Son) to divide the spoils of beauty- apostles, evangelists, teachers; that is, for the beauty of the house, the Church, that they may make it beautiful. May he, who overcame the devil and took away his armour, make us sharers of that beauty: Jesus Christ, who is blessed, who is God above all things, for ever and ever. Amen.
(On the third clause.
First, a sermon against the proud: I saw a ram with horns, and on the arrangement of horns in animals, and their meaning.)
13. When a strong man armed keepeth his court. The strong man armed is the spirit of pride, armed with uplifted horns to brandish and to fight the whole world. As we read in Daniel:
I saw a ram pushing with his horns against the west and against the north and against the south; and no beasts could withstand him nor be delivered out of his hands; and he did according to his own will and became great. [Dan 8.4]
This ram represents the spirit of pride, which butts against west and north and south with uplifted horns. The west denotes poor and lesser folk, who lack the heat of strength and power. The north denotes equals (in Isaiah, the devil says: I will place my seat in the north, and I will be like, (that is, equal to) the Most High [cf. Is 14.13-14]). The south denotes greater folk, ablaze with the heat of dignity and power. The horned ram, the spirit of rampant pride, ramps against the west, treading down the poor and humble; against the north, despising his equals; and against the south, mocking and deriding his betters. And no beasts could withstand him, nor be delivered out of his hands. O horned pride, who can be delivered from your hands? You even raised up Lucifer- the seal of resemblance, whose covering was every precious stone [Ezek 28.12-13]- to the very pinnacle of pride. You were born in heaven, and so you usually live in heavenly minds, hiding beneath sack-cloth and ashes!
From the horns of this beast, David the prophet prayed to be saved, saying:
Save me from the lion’s mouth: and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns. [Ps 21.22]
The unicorn represents the singularity of pride, because the proud man wants to be alone in pre-eminence. "Power will suffer no partner."3 David detested pride, saying: O Lord my God, If I have done this thing! [Ps 7.4]. See how, to indicate the greatness of his detestation, he would not even call it by its own name! God hates pride above all things, and so Peter says:
God resisteth the proud, but to the humble he giveth grace. [1Pt 5.5]
Job says of the unicorn:
Shall the rhinoceros(or: monoceros, ‘unicorn’) be willing to serve thee, or will it stay at thy crib? [Job 39.9]
as if to say, "Not thine!" The proud man cannot consider the Lord’s crib, that he was placed in a crib for us.
14. Some animals have backward-curving horns. This is an image of the pride which, in some people, is broken down by their lust. They think themselves high and mighty, but are brought low by the lust of the flesh. As Hosea says,
The pride of Israel shall answer in his face. [Hos 5.5]
It often happens that someone, who will not recognize his hidden pride, is brought to shame when it is revealed through the vice of lust.
There are also animals with forward-pointing horns, like unicorns. This represents the pride of the hypocrite, who cloaks his pride under an appearance of religious observance. As Ecclesiasticus says,
There is one that humbleth himself wickedly, and his interior is full of deceit.[Ecclus 19.23]
St Gregory4 says: "Humility is such a precious thing, that pride would like to be clothed in it, lest its own vileness be seen."
Some animals have horns which turn towards each other, like the wild cow, representing a pride in some which is broken in itself. Isaiah says:
The Lord of hosts shall break the earthen vessel with terror,
and the tall of stature shall be cut down, and the lofty shall be humbled. [Is 10.33]
The earthen vessel is the mind of a proud sinner, made of clay and breakable, filled with the water of conceit. The Lord breaks it by striking the terror of the Last Judgement into the mind of that proud man. In that judgement, the ‘tall of stature’, who now seem to stand so securely, will be cut down by the sentence;
Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire; [cf. Mt 25.41]
and the ‘lofty’ who now go about with stretched out necks and wanton glances, and move with a set pace [cf. Is 3.16], will be humbled to hell, and to the deepest pit [cf. Is 14.15], in which is no refreshing water.
Again, some animals have horns that go straight up, like the deer. This represents that pride which, in some, arises from religion alone. This is the most dangerous sort, and Isaiah says of it to religious (whom it most benefits to be outstanding in humility), speaking under the figure of ‘the valley of vision’:
What aileth thee also, that thou too art wholly gone up to the housetops?[Is 22.1]
as if to say, It is tolerable if worldly folk seek the highest places; but what does it look like if you religious, that see so much, go looking for promotion?
(A sermon on humility: But if a stronger than he cometh.)
15. Let us say, then: When a strong man armed keepeth his court. The ‘court’ of horned pride is the proud man’s heart, wherein pride chooses its special dwelling. And just as the heart is the origin of the veins, and the primary creator of blood, so from the heart’s pride flows every evil; for
Pride is the beginning of all sin. [Ecclus 10.15]
Pride watches over the court of the heart, lest any of its enemies climb up against it and disturb its peace- of which the Lord says, in Luke:
If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace. [Lk 19.42]
and the prophet:
I had a zeal on occasion of the wicked, seeing the peace of sinners. [Ps 72.3]
There follows: But, if a stronger than he cometh and overcometh him, etc. The ‘stronger’ is humility, of whose strength David said to Saul, in the first book of Kings:
I thy servant have killed both a lion and a bear. [1Kg(Sm) 17.36]
David means ‘strong-armed’, and he represents the humble man who, the more he is humbled, becomes stronger. The humble man is like a worm, that earth-eater that contracts itself so as to extend itself the more. In the same way, the humble man contracts and belittles himself, that he may more strongly stretch out and reach heavenly good things. Ecclesiasticus says,
He hath lifted him up from his low estate, and hath exalted his head from tribulation,
and many have wondered at him. [Ecclus 11.13]
The humble, yet strong, David says, "I thy servant". O shining pearl! O sweet-smelling blossom! O humility, spicy as cinnamon! I thy servant! The humble man looks on himself as a servant, and calls himself a servant. He casts himself at the feet of all, abases himself, and thinks himself less than he is. So St Gregory5 says: "It is characteristic of the elect, that they think themselves to be less than they are."
This humble servant slays the lion of pride and the bear of lust. And note: he says that he first killed the lion, and then the bear, because no-one can mortify lust in himself unless he first toils to expel the spirit of pride from the court of his heart. So it is said, if a stronger than he come upon him and overcometh him, he will take away all the armour wherein he trusted. The armour (St Matthew calls them ‘vessels’ [cf. 12.29]) of the spirit of pride is the five bodily senses, with which, as with arms, he attacks others; and in which, as in so many vessels, he carries the deadly poison of pride and offers it to others. But the humility of Jesus Christ (who is God, blessed above all [cf. Rom 9.5]) comes, and he says:
Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart. [Mt 11.29]
and he enters the house of the strong man, the court of the heart, in which pride dwells, and overcomes him and drives him out. The medicine of humility expels the poison of pride, and when it is driven out, all its armour, in which it trusted, humility takes away; so that from then on nothing conceited, nothing exalted, nothing vicious may appear in the bodily senses. Instead, the insignia of humility are displayed everywhere.
(A sermon for religious, and how they should change their former life: In that day, there shall be five cities.)
16. This is the change of the right hand of the Most High [Ps 76.11], of which Isaiah says:
In that day, there shall be five cities in the land of Egypt, speaking the language of Canaan...
One shall be called the city of the sun. [Is 19.18]
Egypt means ‘darkness’, or ‘sorrow’; it represents the human body, which is a land of darkness and sorrow. Darkness, because it is obscured with the gloom of ignorance and malice; sorrow, because it is full of grief and sadness. In this land of Egypt there are five cities, the five bodily senses. Of these five, one is called the city of the sun. The eyes are the city of the sun, because just as the sun enlightens the whole world, so are the eyes the light of the body [cf. Mt 6.22].
‘In that day’, when the stronger humility comes and enters the heart of man and overcomes the spirit of pride, and drives out the blindness of the mind, the five cities in the land of Egypt, which previously spoke the Egyptian language, concupiscence of the flesh, will speak the language of Canaan (‘exchange’), because they are changed from vices to virtues, from pride to humility. Then humility and simplicity will appear in the eyes; truth and kindness will sound in the mouth; all detraction and flattery will be removed from the ears; purity and piety will be in the hands, and maturity will be found in the feet.
Let us pray then, dear brothers, to Jesus Christ, who overcame the pride of the devil by his humility, that he will grant us to destroy the horns of pride and conceit with humility of heart, and display everywhere in our body the tokens of humility; that we may be found worthy to attain his glory. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
(On the fourth clause.
First, a sermon on interior solitude and the sweetness of contemplation: Like a garden of pleasure.)
17. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through the places without water, seeking rest; and not finding, he saith: I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and entering in they dwell there. And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. [Lk 11.24-26]
The prophet Joel says:
The land is like a garden of pleasure before him, and behind him a desolate wilderness. [Joel 2.3]
This land (or ‘ground’, from the verb ‘to grind’) is the mind of man, contrite for sins. While it is ‘before him’ (God), it is like a garden of pleasure. What greater pleasure or joy can there be for the human mind, than to be ‘before him’ with whom, and in whom, is all that is true; and without whom everything that seems to be is nothing, and all abundance is only a lack? The mind of man is ‘before him’, when it reckons that it has nothing good from itself, in itself, or by itself; but attributes everything to him who is all good and the supreme good, from whom as from a centre all graces radiate in a straight line to the circumference. This land, as long as it is before him, is truly a garden of delight, in which grow "the rose of charity, the violet of humility and the lily of chastity". Of this garden, the Bride says in the Canticles:
My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the bed of aromatical spices. [Cant 6.1]
The garden of the Beloved is the mind of the penitent, in which is ‘the bed of aromatical spices.’ It is a small bed, signifying humility, the seed-bed of those spices, the virtues. Into this garden he goes down, in this little bed the Beloved takes his rest. So he himself says in Isaiah:
To whom shall I have respect, but to him that is poor and little and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words?[Is 66.2]
Indeed, the earth is like a garden of pleasure before him.
But it continues, and behind him a desolate wilderness. When the human mind stands before the face of God, contemplating his blessedness and tasting his sweetness, then it is truly a garden of delight. But when unhappy man will not stand before him, but ‘behind him’, wanting only to look at what is ‘after’ him, then the garden of delight becomes a desolate wilderness. The things ‘after’ God are those temporal things which God referred to when he said to Moses:
Thou shalt see my back parts: but my face thou canst not see. [Ex 33.23]
Man sees the ‘back’ of God and not his ‘face’ when he delights in those transitory and temporal things. So, again, Agar says:
I have seen the hinder parts of him that seeth me. [Gen 16.15]
Agar means ‘holding a feast’, and that feast denotes the pleasure of carnal things, glorying in banquets and drunkenness as in a feast. She sees ‘the hinder parts of the Lord’, because she takes delight in the visible things that she sees carnally. St Gregory6 says: "The good mind cannot think of carnal things, unless it sees them carnally. Thus, after him a desolate wilderness.
By ‘desolate’, there is meant the sterility of the mind; by ‘wilderness’, the malice of the devil. The devil makes a desert of the mind he dwells in, sterile of good works. The text of Joel is here concordant with the Holy Gospel. When Joel says, the earth is like a garden of pleasure before him, he is concordant with the first clause of the Gospel, When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man. When he adds, and behind him a desolate wilderness, he is concordant with the final clause, Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself. Let us say, then: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man.
There are four things to note in this Gospel: the going out of the devil; his temptation of the just; the lukewarm behaviour of the negligent soul; the return of the unclean spirit with seven other spirits. These begin, firstly: When the unclean spirit; secondly: He walketh through the places without water; thirdly: When he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished; fourthly: Then he goeth and taketh seven other spirits.
(A sermon on the devil’s resting-place: He sleepeth under the shadows.)
18. Let us say, then: When the unclean spirit. The devil is called an unclean’ spirit. St Gregory7 tells us that "Spirit is the name of a nature which God created clean, pure and good; but by the uncleanness of its pride it became unclean, and fell from the cleanness of heavenly glory." Like a dirty pig, he chooses to make his dwelling in the uncleanness of sinners, and there he takes his rest. So Job says of him:
He sleepeth under the shadow, in the covert of the reed, and in moist places. [Job 40.16]
Here are three vices. The ‘shadow’, cold and dark, denotes pride which takes away the warmth of divine love and the brightness of true light. The ‘reed’, or cane, is blown about by the wind; beautiful outside but hollow inside, and with fruit like wool. It denotes the avaricious man, agitated by the wind of cupidity. He glories in outward things, but lacks grace within. His riches, which he gathers together to his own ill, are scattered like wool by the whirlwind of death. The ‘moist places’ denote the lustful, who wallow in the swamp of lust and greed. See what a guest-house that pig sleeps in, that unclean spirit rests in, when the unclean spirit is gone out of a man. The unclean spirit goes out of a man, when he recognizes the uncleanness of his iniquity.
The second book of Chronicles says:
The captains and army of the king of the Assyrians took Manasses, and carried him bound with chains and fetters to Babylon. And after that he was in distress he prayed to the Lord his God: and did penance exceedingly before the God of his fathers. And he entreated him, and besought him earnestly. And he heard his prayer, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. And Manasses knew that the Lord was God. [2Chr 33.11-13]
Manasses means ‘forgotten’, and denotes the sinner who forgets God and his precepts in time of prosperity. So in Genesis we read:
The chief butler, when things prospered with him, forgot his interpreter.[Gen 40.23]
Our interpreter is Jesus Christ, who interprets eternal life to us. We forget him when we are carried away by transitory prosperity. Temporal things make God fall into oblivion; so Manasses, the sinner forgetful of God, is taken by the Assyrians (‘those who direct’, the demons who direct the arrow of temptation from the bow of malice, to kill his soul) in the consent of his mind, and is bound by the chains of evil deeds and the fetters of evil custom; and so he is led away to Babylon, the confusion of a blinded mind. But because the mercy of God is greater than the malice of any sinner, the sinner must do what Manasses did: He prayed to the Lord his God: and did penance exceedingly; and he entreated him, and besought him earnestly. With these, the sinner should oppose the four things aforesaid. He should pray to the Lord to free him from the hand of the devil. He should do penance, to loose the chains of evil deeds. He should entreat God to break the fetters of bad habits; and he should beseech him earnestly to rescue him from the confusion of a blinded mind. Then God the merciful, whose mercies are without number. will do according to what follows: He heard his prayer, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. And Manasses knew that the Lord was God. God hears the prayer of a humbled and contrite sinner, and brings him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. What else is Jerusalem but the outpouring of grace, the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of God and the sinner? That is the Vision of Peace, where he reigns who goes, as Ecclesiasticus says from prison and chains to a kingdom [cf. Ecclus 4.14]. This is how he knows that the Lord is God, who freed him, who made the unclean spirit go out of him, as said: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man.
(A sermon for penitents or religious: In a desert land, and on the nature of bees.)
19. There follows, secondly, He walketh through the places without water, seeking rest. The devil’s walking is just his temptation; as he answers in Job:
I have gone round about the earth, and walked through it. [Job 1.7]
The devil first goes round about the earth (the mind of man), craftily finding out to which vice he is most susceptible. Then he walks through it, tempting each one according to what he has discovered. He walketh through the places without water. These waterless places (Matthew calls them ‘dry’ [cf. Mt 12.43]) are the saints, in whom the moisture of greed and lust is all dried up. One of them says in a Psalm:
In a desert land, and where there is no way and no water:
so in the sanctuary have I come before thee,
to see thy power and thy glory. [Ps 62.3]
There are three virtues here, which sanctify and enlighten the mind to contemplate God. The ‘desert land’ is poverty; ‘no way’ denotes chastity; and ‘no water’ denotes abstinence. The land is the body or mind of a just man, which is like a garden of pleasure before God. He says,
O God, my God: in a land(my body or mind)
which is desert(by poverty),
pathless(by chastity: being without that path of which Solomon says, A harlot is as dung in the way [Ecclus 9.10], and Isaiah: Thou hast laid thy body as the ground and as a way to them that went over [Is 51.23]),
and waterless(parched by abstinence from food and drink):
so in the sanctuary(a holy way of life)
I appeared before you(so that you who sit upon the Cherubim might appear to me).
Then he adds:
that I might see(be able to contemplate)
your power and glory(Jesus Christ your Son).
The Apostle calls Christ the power and wisdom of God [cf. 1Cor 1.24]; and Solomon says: A wise son is the glory of his father [cf. Prov 13.1]. This is the way we contemplate the power and glory of God. Whoever does not walk by this way is blind, like one who gropes along feeling the wall with his hand.
So he walketh through waterless places. The devil tempts holy and just folk, and, as Job says,
He trusteth that the Jordan may run into his mouth. [Job 40.18]
The Jordan (meaning ‘humble descent’, or ‘valley of judgement’) stands for holy people who, if they offend in any way, are immediately humbled and go down to judge themselves in the valley of compunction and confession. The devil, walking through these waterless places, hopes that they may run into his mouth. he seeks his rest there, but they (as Job says) are ready to raise Leviathan [Job 3.8]. They ‘raise Leviathan’ when they do not let the devil find rest in the guest house of their hearts by the consent of their mind.
The saints should do as the bees do. It is said that they sit on guard at the entrance to the hive, and if any stranger dare to enter by those gates, they will not allow him to remain among them. They chase him immediately, until they drive him out of the hive. Bees are also said to be born without feet, or to bind up their feet (so that in Latin they are called a-pes, without foot). In this they resemble the just, who should bind up their ‘feet’, the affections of charity which they are not born with (for we are all born children of wrath [Eph 2.3]) but are given by grace alone. Their "hives" are their bodies, the doors of which are the five senses and, spiritually, the eyes. They should keep a careful watch over these, lest anything foreign, anything of the devil, should enter in. If by chance any devilish suggestion or carnal pleasure should enter by those doors, then they should in no wise let it remain inside, because delay brings danger. Someone8 has said: "A thought allowed to linger is a mortal sin. When reason discerns that a thought is tending towards something unlawful, and yet does not restrain it as much as it is able, that is a thought allowed to linger." Bees should immediately rise up and chase it with the stings of contrition and prayer, and drive it out from their bodies’ hive. Thus they are ready to raise Leviathan so that he cannot find rest in them.
(A sermon on the triple broom and its meaning: I will return unto my house.)
20. There follows, thirdly, Not finding, he saith: I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Matthew says, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished. Note that: "There is a three-fold sweeping: contrition, confession and satisfaction."9 About the sweeping of contrition, the prophet says:
I swept my spirit. [Ps 76.7]
He ‘sweeps his spirit’ when, with the broom of contrition, he cleans the dirt of unclean thoughts and the dust of worldly vanity from the surface of his soul. About the sweepings of confession and satisfaction, the Lord says in Isaiah:
I will sweep it and wear it out with a besom, saith the Lord of hosts. [Is 14.23]
The Lord ‘sweeps’ Babylon when, by confession, he cleans from sin the soul that has been confused by sin. He wears it out with a besom when he strikes it with the scourges of satisfaction. So with these three brooms the house of man’s soul is cleansed. The Lord says of this cleansing in Isaiah:
Wash yourselves, be clean.
Take away the evil of your devices from my eyes(the broom of contrition).
Cease to do perversely(cleansed by the broom of confession);
learn to do well(chastened by the broom of satisfaction). [Is 1.16-17]
(A sermon against the lukewarm: The Amalekites had made an invasion.)
But because it often happens that good deeds are followed by complacency and idleness, we read, He found it empty and garnished. Blessed Bernard10 says, "Idleness is at the bottom of all temptations, of all evil and useless thoughts." So, in I Kings, we are told that:
The Amalekites had made an invasion on the south side upon Siceleg, and had smitten Siceleg, and burnt it with fire. And had taken the women captives that were in it, both little and great. [1Kg(Sm) 30.1-2]
The Amalekites (their name means ‘blood-lickers’) stand for the devils, who desire to lick up and devour the blood of souls, their compunction to tears. They ‘invade Siceleg from the south’, from the warm wind of which Job says:
Consider the paths of Theman, the ways of Saba. [Job 6.19]
Theman is ‘the warm south’, meaning a lax and idle way of life by which the devil tempts. When the unclean spirit finds a house abandoned and empty by idleness, he enters in. Because David remained in Jerusalem and did not go forth to war, as the second book of Kings tells us [2Kg(Sm) 11.1], his idleness and slackness were punished by vice. Saba, ‘a net’ or ‘a captive’, means the binding by sin which often joins lukewarmness and idleness. A person who does not go by strict judgement, but by loose and careless steps, and is involved in lax behaviour, is hindered from the things that belong to God. Siceleg, the ‘drawing of a cleansed voice’, is that soul which should speak out clearly about its sins, and not be mealy-mouthed. From the south, the lukewarmness and idleness of its life, it is capture by evil spirits, and burnt with the fire of wickedness, and whatever there is of virtue in it, whether small or great, is taken prisoner. Thus, he finds it empty and garnished.
(A sermon for penitents, and on the nature of bees: He found it empty and garnished; and: I am black but beautiful.)
21. Natural History tells us that the small bees are the ones that do the most work. They have delicate wings, and their colour is black and, as it were, burnt. The fancy bees are the kind that do nothing. The small bees are penitents, who are small in their own eyes. They work hard, and are always busy with something, lest the devil find their house empty and idle. They have ‘delicate wings’, contempt of the world and love of the heavenly kingdom, with which they lift themselves up from the world and balance themselves in the air, keenly contemplating the glory of God. They are also black in colour, as though burnt.
In Canticles, the penitent soul says:
I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,
as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
Do not consider me that I am brown,
because the sun hath altered my colour. [Cant 1.4-5]
O daughters of Jerusalem, you angelic powers and faithful souls, I am black with sackcloth and ashes, with outward fasts and vigils, but beautiful in purity of mind and integrity of faith within. I am black like the tents of Cedar (sorrow), I live in tents which are moved from place to place, and from which soldiers fight and are fought against. Here I have no abiding city, but I look for one that is to come [cf Heb 13.14], and while I fight I am assailed. In all this there is nothing for me but sorrow and pain. but I am beautiful like the curtains of Solomon, which were blue and red. The blue curtains stand for purity of mind and contemplation of heavenly glory; the red ones are integrity of faith and the harshness of martyrdom or of affliction. Do not consider me that I am brown, because the sun has altered my colour. When the sun is eclipsed or fails, it takes away the colour of everything. In this way the true Sun, Jesus Christ, who knoweth his going down [cf. Ps 103.19], when he suffered the eclipse of death upon the Cross, took colour from everything- all vanities, all false glories and all honours.
So the penitent soul says, I am black, I am brown, because the sun has changed my colour. When with the eyes of faith I see my God, my Spouse, my Jesus, hanging on the Cross, pierced with the nails, given gall and vinegar to drink, and crowned with a crown of thorns- then every beauty, every glory, every honour and passing pomp turns pale, and is reckoned by me as nothing. Such are the little bees, black and burnt. The fancy bees, however, are lukewarm and foolish religious, who glory in the ornateness of their dress, who display their lives like phylacteries, and broaden the fringes of their holiness. Their house is splendid outside, but inside it is full of corruption and dead men’s bones. This leads to what follows: Then he goes and takes seven other spirits.
22. Fourthly, then, these seven spirits are the seven cows referred to in the story of Joseph in Genesis,
ill favoured and lean fleshed, and they devoured the other seven whose bodies were sleek and well-conditioned. [cf. Gen 41.1-4]
They are also the seven ears of corn,
thin and blasted, that devoured the fulness and beauty of the other seven. [ibid, vv 5-7]
They are also the seven years of exceeding sterility, so great that it consumed all the abundance of the other seven years. The seven fine fat cows, the seven full and well-formed cows, and the seven years of great fertility, all stand for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of which Isaiah says:
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding;
the spirit of counsel and fortitude;
the spirit of knowledge and of godliness;
and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. [Is 11.2-3]
These gifts are called ‘fine fat cows’, because of the beauty of a good life and the fecundity of virtue which they bestow on those on whom they rest. They are called full and well-formed ears of corn, from the faith of Jesus Christ, the grain of wheat, full and mature with the twin love of God and of neighbour.
The seven gifts of the Spirit are also called seven years of great fertility, because in the seventy years of our pilgrimage they make the mind, on which they rest with the gift of sevenfold grace, to abound with the abundance of great fertility. But alas, alas! The seven lean and ill-favoured kine, the seven thin and blasted ears, the seven years of exceeding sterility, and the seven spirits more wicked than the unclean spirit enter the empty and garnished house, and eat up the seven gifts of the Spirit. So the last state of that man is worse than the first. They are called ‘more wicked’ from their effect: they make a man more wicked than before. These seven wickeder spirits are called lean and ill-favoured cows, because of the deformation of the image and likeness of God, and the failure of charity which is the fatness of the soul. They are called thin and blasted ears, which because of the stench of their crimes smell scorched. They are called years of exceeding sterility because of the sterility of good deeds, which brings evil upon this wretched mind when they occupy it. So the last state of that man is worse than the first.
We pray you then, Lord Jesus, that by the power of your virtue the unclean spirit may go out from the hearts of the faithful. Make those hearts dry and waterless places, and make their clean conscience fervent in your holy service; and fill them with the spirit of sevenfold grace. May he grant us this, to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
(On the fifth clause.
A sermon on the blessedness of blessed Mary, and her virginity: Blessed is the womb; and: Thy belly is like a heap of wheat.)
1. At that time, A certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the paps that gave thee suck, etc. [Lk 11.27]
The Bridegroom says to the Bride in Canticles:
Let thy voice sound in my ears; for thy voice is sweet. [Cant 2.14]
The ‘sweet voice’ is the praise of the glorious Virgin, which most sweetly sounds in the ears of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ the Son of that Virgin. Let each and every one of us lift up our voice to the praise of blessed Mary, and say to her Son: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck.
2. To be ‘blessed’ is to be fulfilled. "Blessed is he who has all he wants, and wants nothing evil." "Blessed is he to whom comes all he desires." Blessed then is the womb of the glorious Virgin, who for nine months was worthy to bear all good, the supreme good, the blessedness of the angels and the reconciliation of sinners. As St Augustine11 says, "We were reconciled by the Son alone, as regards human nature; but not by the Son alone as regards the divine nature. The whole Trinity reconciled us to Itself, because it was the Trinity Itself that made the Word alone to take human nature." Blessed then is the womb of the glorious Virgin, of whom St Augustine12 says in his book "On Nature and Grace": "I make an exception of the Virgin Mary. When discussing sin, I do not wish (for the Lord’s own honour) to raise any question whatsoever about her. Greater grace was given her, to overcome every kind of sin, than simply to conceive and bear him who, as all agree, had no sin. Except for this Virgin, if all holy men and women could be gathered together and asked whether they had sin, what reply could they make other than that of John: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us [1Jn 1.8]. But that glorious Virgin was prevented by a singular grace, and filled with it, that she might have as the fruit of her womb him whom from the beginning she acknowledged as Lord of the whole universe."
3. Blessed, then, is that womb of which, in praise of his Mother, the Son says in Canticles:
Thy belly is like a heap of wheat, set about with lilies. [Cant 8.2]
The womb of the glorious Virgin is likened to ‘a heap of wheat’; a ‘heap’, because in it were gathered up all the privileges of merit and reward; ‘of wheat’, because in it, as in a barn, there was stored by the industry of the true Joseph the wheat to prevent all Egypt from dying of hunger. Only the purest wheat is stored in the barn, so that its grain may be milled and ground. White on the inside, ruddy on the outside, it represents Jesus Christ who was hidden for nine months in the store-room of the blessed Virgin, to be ground for us in the mill of the Cross; white by innocence of life and red by the shedding of his blood. This blessed womb was ‘set about with lilies’. Lilies, the colour of milk, represent the shining white virginity of the blessed Virgin Mary. Her womb was ‘set about’, fortified with humility as with a wall, ‘with lilies’ of inward and outward virginity. As St Augustine13 says: "The only begotten God, when he was conceived, took true flesh from the Virgin; and when he was born he preserved the integrity of virginity in his Mother." Blessed, then, is the womb that bore thee!
Truly blessed, which bore Thee, God and Son of God, Lord of angels, Creator of heaven and earth, Redeemer of the world! The daughter bore the father! The poor little Virgin bore the Son! O cherubim, seraphim, angels and archangels! Avert your gaze, bow your heads and reverently adore the temple of the Son of God, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, the blessed womb set about with lilies! Say: Blessed is the womb that bore thee! O earthly sons of Adam, to whom is granted this grace and special privilege, that with contrite hearts and prostrate on the ground you may worship the ivory throne of the true Solomon, high and lifted up as the throne seen by Isaiah, say: Blessed is the womb that bore thee! [cf 3(1)Kg 10.18-20; Cant 3.9-10; Is 6.1]
(A sermon on the Nativity of her Son: The dearest hind, and on the properties of the hind and the palm.)
4. There follows: And the paps that gave thee suck. Of these, Solomon says in Proverbs:
Thy dearest hind and most agreeable fawn:
let her breasts inebriate thee at all times;
be thou delighted continually with her love.[Prov 5.19]
Natural History tells us that the hind gives birth beside the trodden way, knowing that because of man the wolf avoids that trodden way. The ‘dearest hind’ is blessed Mary, who gave birth in the wayside inn to her Son, ‘the most gracious fawn’, because he was given to us freely and in a time of grace. So Luke says:
And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes
(that we might receive the robe of immortality),
and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. [Lk 2.7]
The Gloss tells us that " There was no room in the inn, so that we might have many mansions in heaven." The breasts of that hind, most dear to all the world, should ‘inebriate’ thee, O christian, ‘at all times’. Forgetful of temporal things, like one inebriated, you should reach out to the things that lie ahead [cf. Phil 3.13]. Yet it is remarkable indeed that the text says ‘inebriate’, for breasts do not contain wine that inebriates, but milk that nourishes. Listen to the reason: her Son, praising her in the Canticles, says:
How beautiful art thou, and how comely, my dearest, in delights!
Thy stature is like to a palm tree and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.[Cant 8.6-7]
How beautiful you are in mind, and how comely in body, my Mother, my Bride, dearest hind: ‘in delights’, that is, in the rewards of eternal life.
(A sermon for any feast of the same Virgin: I saw before me a vine.)
5. Thy stature is like to a palm tree. The lower part of a palm tree has a rough bark. Above, it is beautiful in appearance and in fruit; and, as Isidore14 says, it produces fruit a hundredfold. Likewise blessed Mary wore, in this world below, the rough bark of poverty; but in heaven she is beautiful and glorious, because she is Queen of Angels. She was worthy to bear the fruits of virginity a hundredfold, being Virgin of virgins, and above all virgins. Yes, thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
The grape-cluster is, as it were, many fruits in one, produced by the vine. In the story of Joseph in Genesis, the king’s chief butler says:
I saw before me a vine, on which there were three branches, which little by little sent out buds, and after the blossoms brought forth ripe grapes. [Gen 40.9-10]
There are seven noteworthy things here: the vine, the three branches, the buds, the flowers, the grapes. Let us see how all seven are most appropriate to blessed Mary.
The vine is a quick-rooting plant that entwines about itself. This is blessed Mary, who was more swiftly and deeply rooted than all others in the love of God; and who entwines herself inseparably to her Son, the true Vine who said: I am the true Vine [Jn 15.1]; and who says of herself in Ecclesiasticus:
As a vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour. [Ecclus 24.23]
The child-bearing of the blessed Virgin has no parallel in the female sex, but it does have a likeness in the natural order. How did the Virgin bring forth the Saviour? As the vine-flower sends forth its scent. Just as you see the blossom to be unspoilt when it gives out its scent, so you must believe concerning the Virgin’s modesty when she brought forth the Saviour. What else is the flower of virginity but a sweet perfume?
The three branches of the vine were: the angelic salutation, the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and the ineffable conception of the Son of God. From these three branches there is brought forth and multiplied daily throughout the world a progeny of faithful souls. the buds of the vine are the humility and virginity of blessed Mary. The flowers are fruitfulness without stain and childbirth without pain. The three clusters of grapes on the vine are the poverty, patience and abstinence of the blessed Virgin. These are ripe grapes, from which there flows a full-bodied and sweet-scented wine, that inebriates (and yet in so doing makes sober!) the minds of the faithful. The text fits, then: Let her breasts inebriate thee at all times, and be delighted continually with her love; for it is by love of her that you may despise the false delights of the world, and tread down the concupiscence of the flesh.
6. Flee to her, O sinner, for she is a city of refuge. Just as once the Lord set apart cities of refuge, to which might flee anyone guilty of involuntary homicide [cf Num 35.11,14], so now by the Lord’s mercy he gives the name of Mary as a refuge of mercy even for voluntary homicide. The name of our Lady is a strong tower. The sinner who flees to her will be safe. It is a sweet name, a name to comfort sinners, a name of blessed hope. Lady, your name is ‘the desire of the soul’ [cf. Is 26.8].
And the name of the Virgin was Mary. [Lk 1.27]
Thy name is as oil poured out. [Cant 1.2]
"The name of Mary is joyful in the heart, honey in the mouth, a melody in the ear." to the great praise of Mary, then, is said: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck.
By sucking we take nourishment. When Christ took milk, he worked our salvation. Our salvation was his Passion. He underwent his Passion in that body which had been nourished by the Virgin’s milk. So Canticles says:
I have drunk my wine with my milk. [Cant 5.1]
Lord Jesus, why did you not say, "I have drunk vinegar with my milk"? He who had been suckled by virgin breasts was given gall and vinegar to drink. The sweetness of milk was turned to the bitterness of gall, so that this bitterness might proffer us the drink of eternal sweetness. He sucked the breast, who willed on Calvary to be pierced in the breast by the lance, so that his little ones might suck blood like milk. As Job says:
The young eagles suck blood. [Job 39.30]
7. There follows: But he said: Shall we not rather say ... The Gloss explains that Mary should be praised not just because she bore the Word of God in her womb, but still more because she kept the commandments of God in her action.
We pray you then, our Lady, star of the sea, that you shine upon us when we are buffetted by the raging of the sea. Guide us to harbour, defend our going out with your watchful presence. So may we be found fit to go out safely from this prison, and come joyfully to unending joy. May he grant this, whom you bore in your blessed womb and suckled with your most holy breasts. To him be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1cf. BERNARD, In cantica sermo 59,3; PL 183.1063
2JUVENAL, Satires, 2,47
3LUCIAN, De bello civili 192-193
4BERNARD, Tractatus de gradibus humilitate et superbia 18,47; PL 182.967
5GREGORY, Moralium XXXIV,22,43; PL 76.742
6cf. GREGORY, Moralium XX,15,38; PL 76.159
7or rather: AUGUSTINE, Contra Iulianum VI,20,63; PL 44.861
8cf. RICHARD OF ST VICTOR, Explanatio in Cantica Canticorum, 25; PL 196.480
9cf. INNOCENT III, sermo 15; PL 217.383
10BERNARD (=GUIGO), Epistola ad fratres, I,8,21; PL 184.321
11P. LOMBARD, Sent. III, dist. 1,3; quoting FULGENTIUS, De fide ad Petrum 2,23 PL40.760
12cf. AUGUSTINE, De natura et gratia 36,42; PL 44.267
13FULGENTIUS, op.cit. 2,17; PL 40.758
14Not in ISIDORE; possibly A. NECKAM, De laudibus divinae sapientiae, dist. VIII,37-38
Copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P.Spilsbury