The Sermons of St. Antony
Translated by Paul Spilsbury
(The Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Lent: "Of the five loaves".)
(First, a sermon for the preacher: Cast thy bread.)
1. "The Lord fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes."
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells preachers:
Cast thy bread upon the running waters:
for after a long time thou shalt find it again. [Eccles 11.1]
"The running waters are the people running towards death," and so the woman of Tekoa says:
Like waters we all fall down, [2Kg(Sm) 14.14]
and Isaiah says:
This people hath cast away the waters of Siloe, that go with silence,
and hath rather taken Rasin and (Phacee) the son of Romelia. [Is 8.7]
Siloe means ‘sent’; so the waters of Siloe represent the teachings of Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father. Those who pursue earthly desires cast away this water, and instead take ‘Rasin’, the spirit of pride, and ‘Phacee’, the defilement of lust; and so they fall like water into the depths of hell. Cast thy bread upon the waters, then, O preacher: the bread of preaching of which is said, Not in bread alone .. [Mt 4.4]; and by Isaiah, Bread is given to the just [Is 33.16]; and after a long time (in the day of judgement) thou shalt find it (the reward for it). In the name of the Lord, I will cast bread upon the waters, and for love of you compose a brief sermon on the five loaves and two fishes.
(A sermon for rebuking sin: Judah, by the Odollamite. The five-fold bread and its meaning.)
2. We will speak, then, "of the five loaves, etc." The five loaves represent the five books of Moses, in which we find five refreshments for the soul. The first loaf is the rebuking of sin by contrition; the second is the laying bare of sin in confession; the third is its abasement and humiliation in satisfaction; the fourth is zeal for souls in preaching; the fifth is the sweetness of our heavenly home in contemplation.
Concerning the first loaf, we read in the first book, Genesis, that Judah sent a kid by the Odollamite to Thamar [cf. Gen 38.20]. Judah means ‘confessing’, and stands for the penitent. He should send ‘a kid’, the reproaching of sin, to Thamar, meaning ‘bitter’, ‘exchanged’ or ‘a palm’. She too denotes the penitent soul, and the three meanings denote the three states of penitents. ‘Bitter’ is the state of beginners, ‘exchanged’ that of proficients, and ‘palm’ that of the perfect. The Odollamite (meaning ‘testimony in water’) represents the tears of sorrow with which the penitent bears witness that he reproaches himself for sin, and will not commit it again. So from this Thamar, Judah may beget Phares and Zara, as Matthew tells us [cf. Mt 1.3]. Phares means ‘division’, and Zara ‘rising’. The penitent must first separate himself from sin, and then seek the illumination of good works. In the words of the psalmist,
Decline from evil (Phares) and do good (Zara). [Ps 34.27]
Concerning the second loaf, we are told in the second book of Moses, Exodus, that Moses struck the Egyptian, and hid his body in the sand [Ex 2.12]. Moses is ‘from the waters’, and he represents the penitent, awash with the waters of sorrow. He must strike the Egyptian, mortal sin, in contrition, and bury him under the sand in confession. St Augustine1 says: "If you uncover, God will cover; if you hide, God will find out." He who discloses his sins ‘hides the Egyptian’- hides it from God, I say, even as he reveals it to the priest. In Genesis, it says that Rachel hid the idols of Laban [cf. Gen 31.34]. Rachel (‘a sheep’) is the penitent soul who should hide the idols (mortal sins) that belong to Laban (the devil). Blessed are those whose sins are covered [Ps 31.23].
Concerning the third loaf, we find in the third book of Moses, Leviticus, that the priests are commanded to cast the crop of the throat, and the feathers, beside the altar at the east side in the place of ashes [Lev 1.16]. The ‘crop of the throat’ denotes the burning thirst of avarice, of which Job says:
Thirst shall burn against him (the avaricious man). [Job 18.9]
The ‘feathers’ denote the vanity of pride:
The wing of the ostrich (the hypocrite)
is like the wings of the heron and the hawk (the contemplative man). [Job 39.13]
These are cast ‘in the place of ashes’ when with heartfelt pangs we remember that first curse: Ashes thou art and to ashes thou shalt return [cf. Gen 3.19]. The south [sic] side is eternal life, from which in our first parents we have fallen. The penitent is humbled in satisfaction, as he casts the crop of avarice and the feathers of pride from himself, recalling the utterance of the first curse and groaning every day that he is cast out of God’s presence and sight.
Concerning the fourth loaf, we are told in the fourth book, Numbers, how Phinees took a dagger and stabbed two fornicators through the genital parts [cf. Num 25.7-8]. Phinees is the preacher, who should take the dagger of the word of preaching, and stab fornicators through the genital parts, so that with their disgrace laid bare and brought into the open they may be ashamed of the evil they have done. The Lord says by the prophet:
I will discover thy shame to thy face; [Nahum 3.5]
Fill their faces with shame, etc. [Ps 82.17]
Concerning the fifth loaf, we read in the fifth book, Deuteronomy, that Moses went up from the plains of Moab upon Mount Abarim, and there died before the Lord [cf. Dt 36.1,5]. Moses, the penitent, should go up from the plains of Moab (‘from the father’, meaning the conversation of carnal folk, that comes from their father, the devil), to Mount Abarim (‘going over’), the excellence of contemplation, so that he may pass from this world to the Father [cf. Jn 13.1]. These are the five loaves of which it is said, "He fed them with five loaves and two fishes."
(A sermon on the five cubits of myrrh: "Of the five loaves", and the five brothers of Judah, and their meaning.)
3. These are also the five cubits of myrrh, of which Solinus2 writes: "In Arabia there is a tree called ‘myrrh’, five cubits high above the earth." Arabia means ‘sacred’, and it stands for Holy Church, in which grows the myrrh of penitence which raises man five cubits above the earth, like the five Gospel loaves. They are also the five brothers of Judah, of whom Jacob says in Genesis:
Judah, thee shall thy brothers praise. [Gen 49.8]
They are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar and Zebulon; whose names mean, respectively, ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’, ‘added to’, ‘reward’, and ‘dwelling of fortitude’.
Judah needs his brother Reuben, to see in contrition the seven eyes, of which Zechariah says:
Upon one stone there were set seven eyes. [Zech 3.9]
The penitent is ‘a stone’ by his constancy, and ‘one’ by the unity of his faith. The first eye is to see what is past, so as to weep; the second is to see what is to come, so as to beware; the third is to see prosperity, lest it lift him up; the fourth is to see adversity, lest it cast him down; the fifth is to see things above, that he may savour them; the sixth is to see things below, that he may reject them; and the seventh is to see inward things, so that they may please him in God.
He needs the second brother, Simeon, in confession, so that the Lord may hear his voice; as Moses says in Deuteronomy,
Lord, hear the voice of Judah; [Dt 33.7]
and of which Canticles says:
Thy voice sounded in my ears; thy voice is sweet. [Cant 2.16]
To these two, contrition and confession, there must be added the third brother, Levi, satisfaction; so that the measure of punishment may be proportionate to the offence: Bring forth fruits worthy of penance [Lk 3.8]. The Law was given on Sinai (‘measure’), and the Law of grace is given to him whose penitence is proportionate to his guilt.
He needs his fourth brother, Issachar, so that being on fire with zeal for souls he may receive the reward of eternal blessedness. The useless trunk that cumbers the ground, the empty fool who simply takes up space in the Church, will not receive the reward of eternal life, but the sharpness of eternal death.
Finally, I pray that he will have his fifth brother, Zebulon, so that he may dwell with simple Jacob [cf. Gen 25.27] in the tents of contemplation; and so will merit to receive a taste of heavenly sweetness. These, then, are the five loaves of which it is said, "He fed them with five loaves and two fishes."
(A sermon on the four cursed things, and on the five assemblies and their meaning: By three things the earth is disturbed.)
4. The two fishes are understanding and remembrance, with which the five books of Moses should be seasoned. What you understand of the Law, you should also keep in the storehouse of your memory. Alternatively, the two fish which were brought from the depths of the sea to the King’s table are Moses and Peter. Moses was taken from the waters, and Peter was promoted from fisherman to Apostle. The Synagogue was entrusted to Moses, the Church to Peter. They are like Hagar and Sarah, of whom today’s Epistle says:
It is written that Abraham had two sons, etc. [Gal 4.22ff]
Hagar the slave-girl (her name means ‘solemn’) stands for the Synagogue, which gloried in the observance of the Law and its solemnities. Sarah (‘a coal’) stands for Holy Church, set alight by the fire of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The son of the former, the Jewish people, is in opposition to the son of the latter, the believing people.
Alternatively, Sarah (‘princess’) stands for the higher part of reason, which ought to command like a mistress the slave-girl Hagar (‘vulture’), sensuality, which like a vulture follows the corpses of carnal desire. Her son, carnal impulse, persecutes the son of the other, the movement of reason. So the Apostle says:
The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, [Gal 5.17]
that she may cast her out, and her son. So it is said:
Cast out the bondmaid and her son. [Gal 4.30]
The flesh, weighed down with the goods of nature and temporal wealth, rises against her mistress, and theee comes to pass what Solomon speaks of in Proverbs:
By these three things the earth is disturbed, and the fourth it cannot bear:
by a slave when he reigneth;
by a fool when he is filled with meat;
by an odious woman when she is married;
and by a bondwoman when she is heir to her mistress. [Prov 30.21-23]
The slave reigning is the recalcitrant body; the fool filled with meat is the mind drunk with pleasure; the odious woman is vicious behaviour, which is ‘married’ when the sinner is trapped in the bonds of evil habit; and the slave Hagar, sensuality, becomes heir to her mistress, reason. It was so that this unhappy domination might be dissolved that the Lord fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes.
5. There is a concordance to this in the Introit of the Mass:
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and gather together with her, etc. [Is 66.10-11]
We may divide the number five thousand into five assemblies: the first took place in heaven, the second in paradise, the third on the Mount of Olives, the fourth in Jerusalem and the fifth at Corinth.
In the first assembly, discord was born. The first angel was at first a white monk, then a black. At first he was a light-bearer, then he became a bearer of darkness. He sowed the tares of discord among the ranks of his brethren. In the choir of harmony he began to sing the Antiphon of pride, not from below but from above:
I will ascend to heaven, to equality with God, and I will be like the Most High, [cf. Is 14.13]
that is, like the Son. While he was singing so loudly, and the veins of his heart were swelling, he fell irreparably, because the firmament was unable to bear his pride.
The second assembly was in paradise, and there disobedience was born. Because of it, our first parents were driven out into this wretched exile.
In the third assembly came simony, the buying and selling of something spiritual, or something connected with the spiritual. What could be more spiritual or more holy than Christ, whom Judas sold? And so, we may believe, he fell into the peril of simony. He hanged himself, and burst asunder [cf. Acts 1.18]. In the same way, every simoniac who does not resign and truly repent will be hanged by the noose of eternal damnation, and burst asunder.
In the fourth assembly, poverty was transgressed when Ananias and Sapphira, for the sake of the money they had sold their field for, held on to their property and lied to the Holy Spirit. For this, they suffered all at once the sentence of manifest vengeance [cf. Acts 5.1-10]. In the same way, those who do not renounce what is theirs, and sign themselves with the seal of holy poverty, will bear for ever a reproach and a curse if they attempt to rebuild Jericho after it has been destroyed.
In the fifth assembly, chastity was lost. We read in the Epistle to the Corinthians that Paul did not hesitate to pass sentence of excommunication on that fornicator who took his father’s wife, to the destruction of the flesh [cf. 1Cor 5.1-5].
You who are members of the Church and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, form this heavenly assembly, excluding the tares of discord, the madness of disobedience, the greed of simony, the leprosy of avarice and the uncleanness of lust; so that you may be counted among the five thousand, and fed with the five loaves and two fishes, perfected with a thousand-fold perfection. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
1 AUGUSTINE, Enarrationes in Ps. 31 PL 36.264,266
2 SOLINUS, Polyhistor, 40

Copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Rev Dr S.R.P.Spilsbury





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