The Sermons of St. Antony
Translated by Paul Spilsbury
FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
(The Gospel for the fifth Sunday of Lent: Which of you shall convince me of sin? which is divided into seven clauses.)
(First, a sermon for preachers or prelates: Strengthen yourselves, ye sons of Benjamin.)
1. Which of you shall convince me of sin? If I say the truth to you, why do you not believe me? [Jn 8.46]
Jeremiah says to preachers:
Strengthen yourselves, ye sons of Benjamin, in the midst of Jerusalem, and sound the trumpet in Thecua, and set up the standard over Bethacarem. [Jer 6.1]
Benjamin is ‘son of the right hand’; Jerusalem, ‘vision of peace’; Thecua, ‘a trumpet’; Bethacarem, ‘sterile house’. Strengthen yourselves, then, and do not be afraid, you preachers, you sons of Benjamin, of the right hand of eternal life; of which is said:
Length of days is in her right hand. [Prov 3.16]
Strengthen yourselves in the midst of Jerusalem, of the Church Militant, in which is the vision of peace, the reconciliation of sinners. In the midst, yes, because at the heart of the Church is charity, which extends to friend and foe alike. The preacher must strengthen the faithful of the Church to hold on to that ‘midst’. In Thecua- in those who, whenever they do anything, blow a trumpet before them like the hypocrites [cf. Mt 6.2], who please themselves in multitudes of nations [Wisd 6.3]- sound the trumpet of preaching, so that when they hear it they may say, Woe to us, because we have sinned, Lord [Lam 5.16]. And over Bethacarem, the sterile house of those dried up of the moisture of grace, sterile of good works, whose minds are not ground that receives the drops of blood that flow from the body of Christ [cf. Lk 22.44], set up the standard of the Cross. Preach the Passion of the Son of God, because the season of the Passion is now here. Proclaim it to the dead, that they may rise up in the death of Jesus Christ, who in today’s Gospel said to the Jewish crowds, Which of you can convince me of sin?
2. There are seven points to note in this Gospel:
the innocence of Jesus Christ, who says: Which of you can convince me of sin?
the careful hearing of his words: He that is of God heareth the words of God;
the blasphemy of the Jews: Do not we say that thou art a Samaritan, and has a devil?
the glory of eternal life for those who keep his word:
Amen, amen, I say to you, If any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever;
the glorification by the Father: It is my Father that glorifieth me;
the rejoicing of Abraham: Abraham, your father, rejoiced that he might see my day;
the deliberate stoning by the Jews, and the hiding of Jesus: They took up stones to cast at him.
Note that on this Sunday and next, Jeremiah is read; and the responsories "These are the days .. etc."1 are sung without the "Glory be to the Father ..."
[THE FIRST CLAUSE]
(A sermon on the Passion of Christ: Christ being come.)
3. Let is the innocent Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world [cf. Jn 1.29], who did no sin, neither was guilt found in his mouth [1Pt 2.22], who hath borne the sins of many and hath prayed for the transgressors [Is 55.12], say: Which of you shall convince (that is, shall accuse or convict) me of sin? Surely there is not one! How could anyone accuse of sin the one who came to free us from sin and give us eternal life? In today’s Epistle, the Apostle says:
Christ, being come a high priest of the good things to come. [Heb 9.11]
Christ is present to help and to obey. He comes to help us, for
He helped the poor out of poverty. [Ps 106.41]
The human race was poor, despoiled of grace and wounded in its natural powers], and it remained so, without anyone to help it. Then Christ came and stood by, helping it by loosing its sins. He stood by, also, as obedient to God the Father, to death, even death on a cross [cf. Phil 2.8], where he offered not the blood of goats or of oxen, but his own blood to reconcile the human race to God, to cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God [cf. Heb 9.13-14]. He is called high priest of good things to come. He is a ‘pontiff’, a ‘bridge-builder’ for those who follow his way. There are two banks: the nearer is mortality, the further is immortality. Between them flows an impassable river, our iniquity and misery, of which Isaiah says:
Your iniquities have divided between you and God;
and your sins have hid his face from you, that he should not hear. [Is 59.2]
Christ came, standing by as High Priest, and made himself a bridge from the bank of our mortality to that of his own immortality. He was like a plank laid across, for us to pass over to take possession of the good things to come. He is called high priest of good things to come, not of present ones, because he does not promise the latter to his friends. Indeed, he says:
In the world you will have distress. [Jn 16.23]
Christ, standing by to loose our sins, is the high priest of good things to come, so as to give us eternal goods. Who can accuse him of sin? Sin is nothing but an offence against divine law, and disobedience to heavenly commandments. Who can accuse him of sin,
Whose will was in the law of God, [Ps 1.2]
who obeyed not only his heavenly Father, but even his poor little mother? Which of you can convince me of sin? If I speak the truth to you, why do you not believe me? They did not believe the truth, because they were children of the devil, a liar and the father of lies [Jn 8.44], children of that falsehood which he originated.
(On the second clause.
A sermon for those who hear, and against those who will not hear, the word of the Lord: Arise and go down: To whom shall I speak, and: Behold, I will bring.)
4. There follows, secondly: He that is of God heareth the words of God; therefore you hear them not, because you are not of God [Jn 8.47]. The root sense of the word ‘God’ in Hebrew and in Latin is ‘awe’ or ‘fear’. a person is ‘of God’ if he fears God; and whoever fears God listens to his words. So the Lord says through Jeremiah:
Arise, and go down into the potter’s house; and there thou shalt hear my word. [Jer 18.2]
Someone ‘rises’ when, struck by fear, he repents of what he has done; he ‘goes down to the potter’s house’ when he recognizes that he is clay, and fears lest the Lord shatter him like an earthenware pot [cf. Ps 2.9]. There he ‘hears the word of God’, because he is of God, and fears God. St Jerome2 says, "It is a great sign of predestination to hear the words of God freely, and to listen to the talk of his kingdom with as much gladness as do those who listen to the talk of the earthly kingdom." The opposite sign is obstinacy, and so there is added, Therefore you hear them not, because you are not of God. The implication is that if you do not listen to his words, it is because you do not fear him. So Jeremiah says:
To whom shall I speak? And to whom shall I testify, that he may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, and they cannot hear. Behold, the word of the Lord is become unto them a reproach, and they will not receive it. [Jer 6.10]
Thus saith the Lord: I will make the pride of Judah(i.e. the clergy) and the great pride of Jerusalem (i.e. religious) to rot; this wicked people (i.e. the laity) that will not hear my words and that walk in the perverseness of their heart. [Jer 13.9-10]
and yet again:
They are become great and enriched. They are grown gross and fat: and have most wickedly transgressed my words. They have not judged the cause of the widow... Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord? Or shall not my soul take revenge on such a nation?[Jer 5.28-29]
Behold I will bring evils upon the people, the fruits of their own thoughts: because they have not heard my words, and they have cast away my law. To what purpose do you bring me frankincense from Saba, and the sweet-smelling cane from a far country? Your holocausts are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me. [Jer 6.19-21]
Saba is ‘a net’ or ‘captive’; incense is prayer; the cane is the confession of sin, or of praise. He who does not hear the words of God and casts off his law, which is charity (for love is the fulfilling of the law [Rom 13.10]), offers in vain to the Lord the incense of prayer from Saba (the vanity of the world, in which he is netted and held), and the cane of compassion, sweet-smelling if it is done in charity, from a far country (the uncleanness of the mind that separates a man from God). Your holocausts (abstinences) are not acceptable, and your sacrifices (alms) are not pleasing to me, says the Lord, because you have cast away charity. What more? All our works are useless as regards eternal life, if they are not seasoned with the balm of charity.
(On the third clause.
A sermon on Christ’s care for us and his patience amid the blasphemies of the Jews: What seest thou, Jeremiah? and: Woe is me, my mother.)
5. There follows, thirdly:
The Jews therefore answered and said to him: Do not we say well that thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil? Jesus answered: I have not a devil; but I honour my Father. And you have dishonoured me. But I seek not my own glory; there is one that seeketh and judgeth. [Jn 8.48-50]
the Samaritans, who had been established by the Assyrians, held to a religion partly of Jewish origin and partly Gentile [cf. 4(2)Kg 17.24,33,41], and the Jews had no dealings with them [cf. Jn 4.9], reckoning them as unclean. So when they wished to insult someone, they called him ‘a Samaritan’. The word means ‘guardian’, because the Babylonians set them to keep watch on the Jews. This is why they said, Do not we say well that thou art a Samaritan; and by not denying it he accepted the word, being the guardian of Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps [cf. Ps 120.4], and keeps watch over his flock. So the Lord says to Jeremiah:
What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said: I see a rod watching(or, according to another translation, an almond branch). And the Lord said to me: Thou hast seen well, for I will watch over my word, to perform it. [Jer 1.11]
The rod, strong and green, and a symbol of ruling power, stands for Jesus Christ, who is the strength of God [1Cor 1.24], planted by the running water of abundant grace [Ps 1.3], green in that he was free from all sin. He says of himself,
If they do these things in the green wood, what shall be done in the dry?[Lk 23.31]
The Father says to him,
Rule them with a rod of iron, [Ps 2.9]
that is, in unbending justice. This rod watches over his word, to perform it, because what he preached by his word he showed forth by his actions. Whoever practises what he preaches ‘watches over his word’.
6. Alternatively, Christ is called ‘a rod watching’ because, like a thief who stays awake at night and steals things from the houses of sleepers, using a rod with a hook on it, Christ with the rod of his humanity and the hook of his holy Cross steals souls from the devil. So he says,
When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all things to myself[Jn 12.32]
with the hook of the holy Cross.
The Day of the Lord cometh like a thief in the night, [1Thess 5.2]
If thou shalt not watch, I will come to thee as a thief.[Apoc 3.3]
Again, Christ is called a ‘rod of almond’. The centre of an almond is sweet, the shell is hard and the skin is bitter. "The sweet centre is Christ’s divinity, the hard shell is his soul, and the bitter skin his flesh which bore the bitterness of the Passion."3 He keeps watch over the Father’s word (which he calls his own, because he is one with the Father) to perform it. So he says, As the Father hath given me commandment, so do I [Jn 14.51]. Therefore I do not have a devil, because I do the commandment of the Father. The false Jews blasphemed falsely: Thou hast a devil! Jeremiah says, in the person of Christ, regarding their blasphemy:
Woe is me, my mother! Why hast thou borne me, a man of strife, a man of contention to all the earth? I have not lent on usury, neither hath any man lent to me on usury; yet all curse me, saith the Lord.[Jer 15.10-11]
There are two kinds of woe- that of guilt and that of punishment. Christ suffered the woe of punishment, but not that of guilt. Woe is me, my mother! Why hast thou borne me for so great a punishment, a man of strife and discord? Strife occurs among groups of people who, like dogs, are ready to fight over anything. Discord suggests a division within the heart. There was strife among the Jews over the words of Christ. Like dogs, they barked and contradicted each other. They were divided in heart: some said He is a good man; others, No, he just misleads the crowds [cf. Jn 7.12].
I have not lent on usury, neither hath any man lent me on usury. Both lender and borrower are involved in usury; but Christ did not find any among the Jews to whom he might advance the capital of his teaching, nor did anyone make him a return, being unwilling to add to his teaching the interest of good deeds. Indeed, all curse me, saying, Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil. Jesus replied, I have not a devil. He denied the falsehood, but, being patient, he did not return the abuse. I honour my Father, showing him the honour due to him, attributing everything to him; But you dishonour me. So, in the person of Christ, Jeremiah says in Lamentations:
I am made a derision to all my people all day long; [Lam 3.14]
He shall give his cheek to him that striketh him, he shall be filled with reproaches. [Lam 3.30]
I do not seek my own glory, as men do who retaliate for insults offered; but I leave it to my Father. He adds, There is one who seeks and judges. So he says in Jeremiah:
But thou, O Lord of Sabaoth, who judgest justly and triest the reins and the heart, let me see thy revenge on them. [Jer 11.20]
There are two senses of ‘judgement’: condemnation (in which sense it is said that The Father judgeth not any man, but hath given all judgement to the Son [Jn 5.22]; and discernment, of which the Son says in the Introit of today’s Mass:
Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy. [Ps 42.1]
Accordingly, it is the Father who seeks my glory, and distinguishes it from yours, because you glory according to the world, whereas I do not- but by that glory which I had with the Father before the world was made [Jn 8.50], quite different from human glory that puffs up.
7. Morally. Thou hast a demon. The Greek daimonion suggests ‘skilled’ or ‘knowing’, and a daimon is a skilled person. When someone says to you, by way of flattery or praise, "What an expert you are! What a lot you know!" he is saying, "You have a daimon." You should immediately reply with Christ, "I have not a daimon. Of myself, I know nothing; I have nothing good. But I honour my Father, I attribute everything to him and give him thanks, from whom comes all wisdom, skill and knowledge. I do not seek my own glory." Say with St Bernard4 : "Touch me not, vainglorious word! To him alone is glory due, to whom we say: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit." He says also, "No angel in heaven seeks glory from another angel. Shall man on earth seek to be praised by man?"
(On the fourth clause.
A sermon on the glory and the downfall of our first parent: A plentiful olive-tree.)
8. There follows, fourthly:
Amen, amen, I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself? Jesus answered: If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.[Jn 8.51-53]
Amen, a Hebrew word, like alleluia, means ‘truly’, ‘faithfully’, ‘let it be so’. In the Apocalypse, John heard in heaven both Amen and Alleluia. In the same way, the Apostles have handed on those two words to be spoken to all nations. Amen, amen, I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. The bite of death comes from the first man biting the fruit of the forbidden tree. If he had kept the word of the Lord,
Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat,[Gen 2.16-17]
he would not have tasted death for ever. Because he did not keep it, he tasted death and perished with all his posterity. So Jeremiah says:
The Lord called thy name, a plentiful olive-tree, fair, fruitful and beautiful; at the noise of a great word a fire was kindled in it, and the branches thereof are burnt. [Jer 11.16]
Human nature before sin was like the olive-tree in nature, created in the field of Damascus, but planted (if I may so express it) in the paradise of delight; plentiful and fertile in grace, fair in natural gifts, fruitful in the fruition of eternal blessedness, beautiful in its purity. But alas! At the noise of a great word, the devil’s suggestion, promising great things: You will be as gods, the fire of vainglory and avarice was kindled in it, and so its branches, all its posterity, were burnt. O children of Adam, do not imitate your fathers, who did not keep the word of the Lord, and so perished. Keep it; for, Amen, amen, I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. ‘Taste’, here, means the same as ‘experience’.
(A sermon on the mortification of the just man: The days of his life.)
9. There follows: The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. What madness, what insanity! How faithless that devilish people! It is not enough to blaspheme once, with so horrible and unspeakable an accusation, against an innocent man free from all sin: you repeat it a second time! Now we know that thou hast a devil. You blind people! If only you had known, you would not have thought him to have had a devil, you would have believed him to be the Lord, the Son of God!
Abraham is dead, but not by that death which the Lord spoke of, only by the death of the body, as Genesis tells:
And the days of Abraham’s life were a hundred and seventy-five years. And decaying he died in a good old age, having lived a long time, and being full of days; and was gathered to his people. And Isaac and Ismael, his sons, buried him in the double cave. [Gen 25.7-9]
10. Morally. Abraham stands for the just man, whose life must comprise one hundred and seventy-five years. The number one hundred, a perfect number, denotes all the perfection of the just man. Seventy (seven multiplied by ten) indicates the seven-fold infusion of grace and the fulfilling of the ten commandments. Five indicates clean living as to the five senses. So the life of the just man should be perfect, with infusion of seven-fold grace and observance of the ten commandments, living cleanly as to the five senses. In this way he separates himself from worldly love and is dead to sin, full and not empty of days, and is gathered to his people. The Lord says in Isaiah:
As the days of a tree(i.e. like Jesus Christ) so shall be the days of my people. [Is 65.22]
Because he is eternal, his people will live and reign with him for ever. So it says in the Gospel: I live and you will live [Jn 14.19].
And Isaac and Ismael, his sons, buried him in the double cave. Isaac means ‘joy’, and Ismael ‘hearing God’. Joy in the hope of heavenly things, and hearing the divine precepts, bury the just man in the double cave of the active and the contemplative life, so that,
Hidden in the secret of God’s face from the disturbance of men,
he will be protected from the contradiction of tongues. [cf. Ps 30.21-22]
Regarding this contradiction, there is added, What dost thou make thyself? According to them, he made himself Son of God, equal to Him; although he was not. But he did not ‘make himself’, he really was Son of God. So the Apostle says:
He thought it not robbery to be equal with God. [Phil 2.6]
They did not ask, "Who are you?" but "Who do you make yourself to be?" If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. In answer to, "Who do you make yourself?" he refers his glory to the Father, from whom it is that He is God.
(On the fifth clause.
A sermon on the glorification of Christ: It is my father that glorifieth.)
11. There follows, fifthly:
It is my Father that glorifieth me, of whom you say that he is your God, and you have not known him; but I know him, and if I shall say that I know him not, I shall be like you, a liar. But I do know him and do keep his word.[Jn 8.54-55]
The Father glorified his Son in his Nativity, when he made him to be born of a Virgin; at the river Jordan, and on the mountain, when he said, This is my beloved Son. He glorified him in the raising of Lazarus, and in the Resurrection and the Ascension. So he said in John:
Father, glorify thy name. A voice therefore came from heaven:
I have both glorified it(in the raising of Lazarus)
and will glorify it again(in the Resurrection and Ascension). [Jn 12.28]
It is therefore the Father who glorifies me, who you say is your God. This is direct evidence against those heretics who say that the Law of Moses was given by the God of Darkness. "The God of the Jews, who gave the Law to Moses, is the Father of Jesus Christ; therefore the Father of Jesus Christ gave the Law to Moses."5 And you have not known him spiritually, since you serve him for earthly reasons; but I know him, because I am one with him. If I were to say that I do not know him, when I do know him, I would be like you, a liar: a man who says he does not know, when he does. But I know him and I keep his word. As Son, he spoke the word of the Father; he himself was the Word of the Father, speaking to men. He keeps himself, the Godhead within him.
(On the sixth clause.
A sermon on the Nativity of the Lord: In that day, a fountain shall come forth.)
12. There follows, sixthly:
Abraham, your Father, rejoiced that he might see my day; he saw it and was glad. The Jews therefore said to him: thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. [Jn 8.56-58]
He rejoiced, he saw, he was glad: note that the Lord’s Day is threefold- that of the Nativity, that of the Passion and that of the Resurrection. Of the first, Joel says:
In that day ... a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord,
and shall water the torrent of thorns. [Joel 3.18]
In the day of the Nativity, a fountain (Christ) shall come forth from the house of the Lord (the womb of the blessed Virgin), and shall water the torrent of thorns (refreshing our abounding misery, wherewith we are pierced and wounded every day).
Of the second, Isaiah says:
He hath meditated with his severe spirit in the day of heat. [Is 27.8]
On the day of the Passion, when the Lord suffered heat, labour and pain, with his severe spirit as he hung on the Cross, he meditated how he might defeat the devil and rescue the human race from his hand.
(A sermon on the four gifts of the glorified body: On the third day he will raise us, and on the properties of the vulture and the crane.)
Of the third, Hosea says:
On the third day he will raise us up and we shall live in his sight. We shall know and we shall follow on, that we may know the Lord. [Hos 6.3]
On the third day, Christ rose from the dead and raised us up with him, conformed to his resurrection. Just as he himself rose, so we believe that we too will rise in the general resurrection. Then we shall live, and know, and follow on, that we may know. In these four words we recognize the four gifts of the glorified body: immortality (we shall live), subtlety (we shall know), agility (we shall follow) and brightness (we shall know the Lord).
So Abraham, the just man, rejoices over the Word Incarnate on the day of the Nativity; with the eye of faith he sees him hanging on the gibbet of the Cross; and he will be glad with him when, immortal, he is with him in the heavenly kingdom.
The Jews therefore said to him (thinking only of the age of his body, not considering his divine nature), Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Although the Lord was thirty- one or, maybe, thirty-two years old, he looked older because of his hard labour and unceasing preaching. Jesus said to them, Before Abraham was, I am; or rather, not before Abraham was, but before he came to be, for he was a creature. But then he said, not, ‘I was made’, but, ‘I am’, because he is the Creator.
(On the seventh clause.
A sermon against the ungrateful: Am I become a wilderness to Israel?)
13. There follows, seventhly:
They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself and went out of the Temple.[Jn 8.59]
The Jews resorted to stones, that they might stone him who is the Corner Stone, who in himself joined together the two walls (the Jewish people and the Gentiles) who were opposed. The Jews imitated their fathers’ malice, and wanted to stone the Lord of the prophets, just as their fathers had stoned Jeremiah in Egypt. The Lord himself said:
You are the sons of them that killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of you fathers. [Mt 23.31]
14. Morally. False christians, children of another (the devil), have lied to God and violated their Baptismal covenant. As far as they can, every day they stone, with the hard stones of their sins, their Lord and father Jesus Christ, after whom they are called christians. They try to kill him- that is, his faith. They are like the offspring of the vulture, who let their father die of hunger; not like the offspring of the crane, who expose themselves to death for their father’s sake, when the falcon attacks him. They form a ‘six’ around him and protect him, so that he cannot be hunted. Our father, like a needy poor man, knocks at the door for us to open to him and give him a crust of bread, if not a meal:
I stand at the gate and knock. If any man shall hear my voice and open to me the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me. [Apoc 3.20]
We degenerates, like vulture’s children, let our father die of hunger, so that he complains through Jeremiah:
Am I become a wilderness to Israel, or a lateward springing land? Why then have my people said: We are revolted, we will come to thee no more? Will a virgin forget her ornament, or a bride her stomacher? But my people have forgotten me days without number. [Jer 2.31-32]
The Lord is no wilderness, or late-yielding land which produces little or no fruit. He is the paradise of the Lord, a land of blessing in which whatever we sow we reap a hundredfold.
Why then do we miserably depart from him and forget him for so long a time? The soul, Christ’s Bride, a virgin in faith and love, cannot forget her ornament, the divine love with which she began. She cannot forget her stomacher, the pure conscience in which she stands secure. Beloved brothers, let us be like the offspring of the crane. If necessary, let us expose ourselves to death for our father’s sake, for the faith of our father. In this ageing world, soon to perish, let us refresh him with good works, lest perchance it happens to us that Jesus hid himself and went out of the Temple. It is for this reason that from this Sunday, named after the Passion of the Lord, the "Glory be to the Father" is omitted from the responsories; although it is not entirely silent yet, because the Lord has not yet been betrayed into the hands of his enemies.
Let us pray then, and with tears beseech the Lord Jesus Christ, that he hide not his face from us, nor go out of the temple of our hearts. May he not accuse us of sin in his judgement, but pour upon us grace to hear his word carefully. May he give us patience when we suffer injury, and free us from eternal death. May he glorify us in his kingdom, that with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we may see the day of his eternity. May he grant this, to whom be honour and power, dignity and dominion, for ever and ever. Let all the Church say: Amen.
1BREVIARIUM ROMANUM, Passion Sunday, first response at Matins
2The source of this quotation is unknown.
3AUGUSTINE, Sermon 245, 5 PL 39.2198
4BERNARD, In festo Omnium Sanctorum, sermon 5,5 PL 183.479; In Nativitate B.V. Mariae, 14 PL 183.445
5AUGUSTINE, In Ioannis Evangelium, tr. 44.5 PL 35.1711