The sermons of saint antony of padua

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Translated into English by Paul Spilsbury

from the Critical Latin Edition of the Centro Studi Antoniani, Padova, Italia (1979):



















































































This translation has been made from the Critical Edition of the Sermons of St Antony Sermones Dominicales et Festivi sancti Antonii Patavini, published by the Centro Studi Antoniani at Padua in 1979. I have prepared it to accompany my study on the technique of `concordance' employed by St Antony in his exposition of the Scriptures (hence the word `concordance' and its related forms have been highlighted throughout in bold type). I have done my best to combine accuracy with readability, but I hope accuracy has prevailed when there has been any conflict.

A word about the footnotes and references. St Antony quotes other authors extensively in his work, as the footnotes to the Critical Edition show clearly. However, he does not cite those authors explicitly nearly as often. I have therefore only given references in those cases where he cites someone by name, or makes it clear that he is quoting. Readers who wish to identify all the other sources must go to the Critical Edition.

Scripture has been quoted from the Douai Version. Antony uses the Latin Vulgate, and many of his points are based upon verbal characteristics of his text. The Douai Version, though archaic, is also based on the Vulgate, and keeps close to its latinisms. I have sometimes needed to amend it, where Antony's own interpretation seems to require it. Where he himself paraphrases the text, I have translated more freely.

The Cross Headings in bold type are taken from the table of themes referred to in St Antony's General Prologue, in preference to those inserted by the Editors of the Critical Edition; it seems to me that they give a better idea of how he himself sub-divided his material. In the case of two sermons, those for the first and the third Sundays in Lent, this has meant that I have recombined material that the Editors have divided. Thus the Editorial paragraph numbers (which I have retained for convenience of cross-reference throughout the translation) begin again in the course of those sermons.

As well as the Sunday Sermons, this translation includes the Marian Sermons, (which in the Critical Edition are printed between the twelfth and thirteenth Sundays after Pentecost), and the Festival Sermons. There is no table of themes for the Festival Sermons; consequently the crossheadings are those of the Editors.

NOTE: St Antony frequently refers to the `Gloss', the Glossa Ordinaria and the Glossa Interlineara. Where he makes an explicit reference, I have enclosed it in quotation marks; I have not done so, however, for the many passages identified by the Editors but not explicitly noted by Antony. It may be assumed that the references are to the Gloss on the Scriptural text under discussion. I have only included references in the footnotes when Antony cites a specific author, such as Augustine, but the Editors give only a reference to the Gloss.


Copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd. Dr. S.R.P.Spilsbury, 10 Woodside Grove, Henbury, Bristol, BS10 7RF. (


Fr. Paul Spilsbury was born in Bristol, England, in 1939. From 1958-1969 he was a member of the English Province of the Franciscan Friars Minor (OFM), and was ordained priest in 1965. He studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Nottingham from 1966-1971. From 1972 he was a parish priest in the Church of England, but left parish ministry in 1995. He was awarded a Doctorate in Philosophy by the University of Bristol in 1999 for his research into the writings of St Antony of Padua. His Doctoral dissertation is entitled "The Concordance of Scripture: The homiletic and exegetical methods of St Antony of Padua". He is married, with three sons and two daughters. For a Scholarly Study of the Sermons of St. Antony:

The Concordance of Scripture: The homiletic and exegetical methods of St Antony of Padua

A Dissertation by the Rev. Paul Spilsbury


Gen Genesis

Wisd Wisdom

Mt Matthew

Ex Exodus

Ecclus Ecclesiasticus

Mk Mark

Lev Leviticus

Is Isaiah (Isaias)

Lk Luke

Num Numbers

Jer Jeremiah (Jeremias)

Jn John

Dt Deuteronomy

Lam Lamentations

Ac Acts of the Apostles

Jos Joshua (Josue)

Bar Baruch

Rom Romans

Jdg Judges

Ezek Ezekiel (Ezechiel)

1Cor I Corinthians

Ruth Ruth

Dan Daniel

2Cor II Corinthians

1(Sm)Kg I Samuel (I Kings)

Hos Hosea (Osee)

Gal Galatians

2(Sm)Kg II Samuel (II Kings) Joel Joel

Eph Ephesians

3(1)Kg I Kings (III Kings)

Am Amos

Phil Philippians

4(2)Kg II Kings (IV Kings)

Ob Obadiah (Abdias)

Col Colossians

1Chr I Chronicles (Paralipomenon)

2Chr II Chronicles (Paralipomenon)

Ez Ezra (I Esdras)

Neh Nehemiah (II Esdras)

Tob Tobit (Tobias)

Jud Judith

Esth Esther

Job Job

Ps Psalms (Vulgate numbering)

Prov Proverbs

Eccles Ecclesiastes

Cant Canticles (Song of Songs)

Jon Jonah (Jonas)

1Thess I Thessalonians

Mic Micah (Micheas)

2Thess II Thessalonians

Nah Nahum

1Tim I Timothy

Hab Habbakuk (Habacuc)

2Tim II Timothy

Zeph Zephaniah (Sophonias) Tit Titus

Hag Haggai (Aggaeus)

Philem Philemon

Zech Zechariah (Zacharias) Heb Hebrews

Mal Malachi (Malachias)

Jas James

1Mac I Maccabees (Machabees)

2Mac II Maccabees (Machabees)

1Pt I Peter 2Pt II Peter 1Jn I John

2Jn II John

3Jn III John

Jude Jude

Apoc Revelation (Apocalypse)

2) Non-Biblical PL Patrologia Latina


1. According to the First Book of Chronicles,

David gave the purest gold: to make the likeness of the chariot of the cherubims, spreading their wings and veiling the ark of the covenant of the Lord. [1 Chron 28.18]

2. Genesis speaks of

The land of Hevilath, where gold groweth, and the gold of that land is very good. [Gen 2.1112]

The name Hevilath is supposed to mean `bringing forth'. It stands for Holy Scripture, which is

The earth [which] of itself bringeth forth fruit,

first the blade, then the ear,

afterwards the full corn in the ear.[Mk 4.28]

By the blade we understand the allegorical sense of Scripture, which builds up faith in accordance with the words:

Let the earth bring forth the green [growing] herb. [Gen 1.11]

By the ear we understand the moral sense, which gives form to our behaviour and pierces the mind with its sweetness; and by the full grain is represented the anagogical sense, which treats of the fulness of joy and of angelic blessedness.

So, in the land of Hevilath is found the finest gold, because from the text of the divine page we mine holy understanding. Just as gold is superior to other metals, so understanding is better than mere knowledge. A person who has no understanding of the deeper meaning of Scripture does not grasp even the literal sense properly.

3. Some scholars say that the name David means `merciful', others that it means `strong-armed', or else `desirable in appearance'. David, then, stands for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was merciful in his Incarnation, strong-armed in his Passion, and who will be desirable for us to behold in eternal blessedness.

He is merciful in pouring out grace, even upon beginners. Mercy irrigates the heart. So it says in Ecclesiasticus:

I will water my garden of plants,

and I will water abundantly the fruits of my bringing-forth. [Ecclus 24.42]

The garden is the soul, in which Christ, like a gardener, plants the sacraments of the faith, and which he then waters when he makes it fertile with the grace of repentance. Our soul is called the fruit of the Lord's bringing-forth, that is, of his suffering. This is because, like a woman giving birth, he brought it forth in the agony of his Passion.

offering up with a strong cry and tears, [Heb 5.7]

as the Apostle says; and in Isaiah:

Shall not I, that make others to bring forth children, myself bring forth, saith the Lord? [Is 66.9]

He soaks the fruit of his bringing-forth when, with the myrrh and aloes of his Passion, he mortifies the delights of the flesh, so that the soul, like one drunk, may forget worldly things:

Thou hast visited the earth and inebriated it. [Ps 64.10]

He is strong-armed when he carries souls onward from strength to strength, especially those who are making progress in the faith. So it is said in Isaiah:

I am the Lord thy God, who take thee by the hand,

and say to thee: Fear not, for I have helped thee. [Is 41.13]

Just as a loving mother of a little child, when he wants to climb the stairs, takes his hand in hers so that he can climb after her, so the Lord takes the hand of the humble penitent with the hand of love, that he may climb by the ladder of the cross to the state of perfection, so as to become worthy to see him who is desirable in appearance,

the King in his beauty...

on whom the angels desire to look. [Is 33.17; 1Pet 1.12]

And so our David, the Son of God, a merciful and gracious Lord... who giveth abundantly and upbraideth not [Ps 110.4; Jas 1.5], has given gold, that is the holy understanding of divine Scripture:

He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. [Lk 24.45]

the purest gold, that is, purified from every scrap of dirt, from every defilement of heretical perversity.

4. There follows:

To make the likeness of the chariot of the cherubims.

which means the fulness of knowledge, and which stands for the Old and New Testaments, in which is the fulness of knowledge, the only knowledge worthy of the name, that makes men knowledgeable; the key-texts of which are as it were wings, which are spread out precisely when they are expounded in the three-fold way referred to above; and so they `veil the ark of the Lord's covenant.' It is called an `ark' from the Latin arcere, to shut off (from sight), or to keep safe (from a thief). The ark is the faithful soul which should conceal from itself the sight of pride, Leviathan, who according to Job:

beholdeth every high thing; He is king over all the children of pride. [Job 41.25]

and which should keep itself safe from the thief whose holiness is a pretence, who belongs to the darkness of the night, and who is referred to in the Psalm as:

the business that walketh about in the dark. [Ps 90.6]

This ark is called `of the Lord's covenant' because it initiates an eternal covenant with the Lord in Baptism, namely to renounce the Devil and his pomps:

I have sworn; and am determined to keep it. [Ps 118.106]

This ark is veiled by the wings of the cherubim when it is protected and defended by the preaching of both the New and the Old Testaments from the heat of worldly prosperity, from the rain of carnal desire, and from the thunder of diabolic temptation.

5. And so we have made this `chariot-throne' to the honour of God, to the building up of souls, and to the comfort of reader and listener; from the understanding of Holy Scripture and from the authorities of either Testament, so that in it, with Elijah, the soul may be lifted up from earthly things and borne away into the heaven of celestial conversation. And note that as on a chariot there are four wheels, so in this work four matters are dealt with, namely: the Lord's Gospels, the history of the Old Testament as it is read in Church, the Introit, and the Epistle of the Sunday Mass. I have collected together and concorded each of these, as divine grace has granted and as far as my slender and paltry knowledge allows, following the reapers with Ruth the Moabitess, to gather the fallen ears in the field of Boaz, with fear and modesty as one inadequate for so great and important a burden; yet conquered by the prayers and love of brothers who have constrained me to it. And so that the reader's mind may not be confused by the multiplicity of the material, and the variety of the concordances, and forget it all, we have divided the Gospels into clauses, as God has inspired, and concorded each with the parts of each history and Epistle. We have expounded the Gospels and histories rather more fully, and the Introits and Epistles in a briefer and more summary way, so that over-wordiness may not give rise to boredom. It is very hard to cover a complicated subject in a brief and useful sermon.

Nowadays, preachers and congregations are so shallow that if a sermon is not full of polished and studied phrases, and a dash of novelty, they are too critical to take any notice of it. So in order that the word of the Lord should come to them in a way they will not disdain or scorn, to the peril of their souls, I have prefaced each gospel with a suitable prologue, and included in the work itself illustrations drawn from physics and natural history, and explanations of the meanings of words, expounded from the standpoint of morality. I have brought together in one place the headings of all the texts quoted, from which the theme for a sermon may be readily gathered; and I have noted beforehand, at the beginning of the book, the places in which they are to be found, and whatever things are appropriate to the matter.

And so to the Son of God, the Origin of all creation, in whom alone we set and look for the reward of this work, be all praise, all glory and all honour; who is praised and glorious, the blessed God through endless ages. Let the whole Church say: Amen. Alleluia.


Translated by Paul Spilsbury



(First, the Gospel for Septuagesima: The kingdom of heaven is like to a householder, which is divided into two clauses. The Introit of the Mass: They have surrounded me. The Epistle: Know you not that they that run in the stadium. The History: In the beginning God created heaven and earth.)

(In the first clause of this Gospel you will find at least these themes for sermons or principles for preaching:)


(First, a sermon for forming the heart of a sinner and on the property of a tile: Take thee a tile.)

1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [Gen 1.1]

The Holy Spirit says to Ezekiel, that is, to the preacher:

And thou, O son of man, take thee a tile, and draw upon it the plan of the city of Jerusalem. [Ezek 4.11]

A tile represents the heart of a sinner because of four characteristics which it has: it is moulded between two boards, it is flattened out, it is hardened by fire, and it is made red.

The heart of a sinner should be moulded between the two boards of the Old and New Testaments; for as the Psalmist says:

Between the midst of the hills the waters shall pass, [Ps 103.101]

meaning that the waters of doctrine flow from the two Testaments. The word `moulded' is appropriate, because the sinner who has become mis-shapen by sin receives a new shape from the preaching of the two Testaments.

Again, the heart is in a certain sense flattened out. The breadth of charity widens the narrow heart of the sinner. We may recall the words:

Thy commandment is exceeding broad, [Ps 118.96]

and "Charity is wider than the ocean."

Then again it is made hard by fire, for the fickle and unstable mind is hardened by the fire of tribulation, lest it run away in the love of temporal things. Solomon says that what a furnace does to gold, what a file does to iron, what a flail does to grain: that tribulation does to the just man [cf. Wisd 3.6].

Finally, it is made red; by which is indicated the boldness of holy zeal, of which it is said:

The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up, [Ps 68.10]


With zeal I have been zealous for the house of Israel. [1 Kg 19.10]

The house represents the Church or the faithful soul.

So there are these four things to be learnt from the tile:

a) the knowledge of each Testament for the instruction of one's neighbour;

b) an abundance of charity to love him;

c) patience in tribulation to suffer insults for Christ;

d) steadfast zeal to bear every evil.

So, take thee a tile and draw on it the City of Jerusalem.

2. Note that the spiritual Jerusalem is threefold: first the Church Militant, second the faithful soul, third the heavenly homeland. In the Lord's name, then, I will take a tile- the heart of anyone who will listen- and I will inscribe upon it the threefold City, namely, the articles of the Church's faith, the virtues of the soul, and the reward of our heavenly homeland. I will comment on texts from each Testament, and expound them under seven headings.


(A sermon on the seven articles of faith: The first day, God said: Be light made.)

3. In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

These words refer to that which contains and that which is contained. God the Father created, and he re-creates, `in the Beginning' (that is, in the Son). He created in six days, resting on the seventh; he creates anew in six articles of faith, promising eternal rest on the seventh.

On the first day God said:

Be light made. And light was made. [Gen 1.6]

The first article of faith is the Nativity.

On the second day God said:

Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. [Gen 1.6]

The second article of faith is Baptism

On the third day God said:

Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit after its kind. [Gen 1.11]

The third article is the Passion.

On the fourth day God said:

Let there be two great lights in the firmament. [cf. Gen 1.14]

The fourth article is the Resurrection.

On the fifth day God made the birds of the air [cf. Gen 1.20]. The fifth article is the Ascension.

On the sixth day God said:

Let us make man to our image and likeness... And he breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul. [Gen 1.26; .2.7]

The sixth article is the sending of the Holy Spirit.

On the seventh day God rested from all the work which he had done [cf. Gen 2.2]. The seventh article is the coming to judgement, in which we shall rest from all our works and labours.

Let us call upon the Holy Spirit, who is Love, the bond between the Father and the Son. May he grant us so to be united with each of these seven days and articles, and in accord with them, that it may avail for his honour and the building-up of his Church.

(A sermon on the Nativity of the Lord: The first day, God said: Be light made.)

4. On the first day God said, Be light made.

This light is the Wisdom of God the Father, enlightening every man coming into this world [cf. Jn 1.9], and dwelling in inaccessible light [cf. 1Tim 6.16]; concerning which the Apostle writes to the Hebrews:

Who is the brightness and image of his substance; [Heb 1.3]

and of which the Prophet says:

In thy light we shall see light; [Ps 35.10]

and in the Book of Wisdom:

Wisdom is the brightness of the eternal light. [Wisd 7.26]

It is of this, then, that the Father says: Be light made. And light was made, which John interprets more clearly when he says:

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. [Jn 1.14]

Ezekiel too, in like sense but in different words, says:

The hand of God was laid upon me, [Ezek 3.22]

that is to say the Son, in whom and through whom all things were made. The light, then, which was inaccessible and invisible was made visible in the flesh, to enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death [cf. Lk 1.79].

Regarding this enlightenment, we have the passage in John where Jesus spat on the ground and made clay and anointed the eyes of the man born blind. [cf. Jn 9.61]

The spittle, coming from the head of the Father, signifies Wisdom, since the head of Christ is God [1Cor 11.3]. As the spittle is joined to dust, so divinity is joined to humanity, that the eyes of the man born blind may be enlightened- that is, the eyes of the human race which was blinded in our first parent. We see clearly then that on the very same day, the Lord's day, that God said: Let there be light, the Wisdom of God the Father was born of the Virgin Mary and scattered the darkness which was upon the face of the deep [cf. Gen 1.2], that is of the human heart. Wherefore upon that very day we sing in the Dawn Mass: Light has shone [Is 9.21], and in the Gospel: A light from heaven shone about the shepherds [cf. Lk 2.9].

(A sermon on Baptism and those who violate it: Let there be a firmament.)

5. On the second day God said: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. The firmament in the midst of the waters is Baptism, separating the upper waters from the lower waters; that is to say, separating the faithful from the unfaithful, who are rightly called `lower waters' because they seek the things that are below and daily fall short by their defects. `The waters above', however, stand for the faithful who, according to the Apostle, should seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. [Col 3.1]

Note too that we refer to `crystal' waters. A crystal, when it is touched by the rays of the sun, emits brilliant sparks. Likewise the faithful man, enlightened by the rays of the sun, should give forth sparks of true preaching and of good works, to set his neighbour on fire. But alas, alas! When the firmament is cracked the waters flow to waste in the dead sea, and they flow in with what is dead. So Ezekiel says:

These waters that issue forth from the mound of sand to the east, go down to the plains of the desert, and shall enter the sea. [Ezek 47.8]

The mound stands for contemplation, in which as in a tomb the dead are buried and hidden. The contemplative, being dead to the world and hidden from the hurly-burly of men, is as it were buried. And so Job says:

Thou shalt enter into the grave in abundance, as a heap of wheat is brought in its season. [Job 5.26]

The just man enters the grave of the contemplative life in the abundance of the grace conferred upon him, just as a heap of grain is carried into the barn at harvest-time. The chaff of temporal things has been winnowed away, and his mind rests in the barn of heavenly fulness. Being at rest, it is filled with the sweetness of heaven.

6. Note too that the mound is said to be of sand to the east. By the sand, penance is indicated. So you find in Exodus that Moses hid the Egyptian he had slain in the sand [Ex 2.12], because the just man ought to strike down mortal sin in confession, and hide it with the satisfaction of penance; and that penance should always look towards that East of which Zacharias speaks:

Behold a man, the Orient is his name. [Zech 6.12]

We read, then, of those waters which issue forth from the mound of sand towards the east. Alas! How much water, and how many religious, issue forth from the mound of the contemplative life, from the sand of penance, from the east of grace! They issue forth, I say, with Dinah and Esau from their father's house [cf. Gen 34.1; 28.9], that is they go out with the devil and with Cain from the face of God, and with Judas the traitor, who held the purse, from the school of Christ. They go down to the level of the desert, to the plain of the wilderness of Jericho, in which, as Jeremiah tells, Zedekiah was blinded by Nebuchadnezzar (the devil) in the full extent of his temporal possessions (the sinner is deprived of the light of reason); and his own sons (his works) were slain by the devil. In this plain Cain (whose name means `possession') killed Abel (whose name means `struggle'). The possession of transitory abundance kills the struggle of penance. And so the waters go down to the level of the desert; wherefore it is said in Genesis:

When they went forth from the east into the west, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar. [cf. Gen 11.2]

The sons of Adam go forth from the east of grace into the west of sin, and when they have found the plain of worldly pleasure they dwell in the land of Sennaar (which means `a stench'). In the stench of gluttony and lust they build a house in which to dwell, not like christians but like pagans who take the name of their God in vain. The Lord says in Exodus:

Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain. [Ex 20.7]

He who uses the name of God without its meaning, instead of respecting the meaning of the name, takes it in vain. And so they enter the sea, which is the bitterness of sin, in order to pass from this to the bitterness of torment. God made the firmament of Baptism in the midst of the waters, to divide the waters from the waters; but these sinners, as Isaiah says,

have transgressed the laws, they have changed the ordinance, they have broken the everlasting covenant.

Therefore shall a curse devour the earth; and the inhabitants thereof shall sin,

and therefore they that dwell therein shall grow mad. [Is 25.5-6]

The written law and the law of grace are transgressed, because they are not willing to keep the written law like slaves, or the law of grace like sons. They alter the natural law, which is: "Whatever you do not want done to you, do not do to others." They break the everlasting covenant which they made in Baptism. Therefore the curse of pride shall devour the earth (that is, earthly folk), and those who dwell in it shall sin with the sin of avarice, those to whom is said in the Apocalypse, Woe to you who dwell upon the earth; and those who cultivate it shall grow mad with the sin of lust, which is weakness and derangement of mind.

(A sermon on the Passion of Christ and the faith of the Church: Let the earth bring forth, etc.)

7. On the third day God said: Let the earth bring forth the green herb. The earth or ground (which derives its name from the word `grind') is the body of Christ, which according to Isaiah was ground down for our sins [cf. Is 53.5]. This ground was dug and ploughed with the nails and the spear. As someone has said, "The earth when it has been dug will give its fruits in due season. The flesh of Christ when dug gave heavenly kingdoms." It brought forth the growing herb in the Apostles, it made the seed of preaching in the martyrs, and the fruit tree bearing fruit in the confessors and virgins. In the primitive Church faith was like a tender plant, so that the Apostles might have said, in the words of Canticles, Our sister (the infant Church) is little (in the number of the faithful), and has no breasts (wherewith she may nourish her children) [cf. Cant 8.8]. She had not yet been made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and so they said, What shall we do with our sister on the day (of Pentecost) when she is to be spoken to (by the speaking of the Holy Spirit)? Concerning this, the Lord said in the Gospel:

He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, [Jn 14.26]

(that is, he will supply assistance).

8. On the fourth day God said: Let there be two lights in the firmament. In the firmament which is Christ, now glorified through the Resurrection, there are two lights- namely the brightness of the Resurrection, which is signified by the sun, and the incorruptibility of the flesh, which is signified by the moon. This refers to the state of the sun and moon before our first parent's fall. After his disobedience all creatures suffer some loss. That is why the Apostle says:

Every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. [Rom 8.22]

9. On the fifth day God made the birds in the sky, to which there appropriately corresponds the fifth article of faith, the Ascension. In the Ascension the Son of God flew like a bird up to the right hand of the Father, with the flesh he had assumed. So he himself says in Isaiah:

who call a bird from the east, and from a far country the man of my own will. [Is 46.11]

`Calling from the east' refers to the Mount of Olives, which is to the east of Jerusalem. Of this it is said:

He ascends upon the heaven of heavens, [Ps 67.34]

that is, to equality with the Father. The `bird' is `my Son', and `from a far country' (the world) comes `the man of my will', he who said:

My meat is to do the will of my Father who sent me. [Jn 4.34]

10. On the sixth day God said: Let us make man, and the sixth article of faith is the sending of the Holy Spirit. In this mystery the image of God which had been deformed and defiled in man is re-formed and enlightened by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who

breathed into the face of man the breath of life. [Gen 2.7]

As it is said in the Acts of the Apostles:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind coming. [Acts 2.2]

Note that the Holy Spirit is well called `mighty', since he takes away eternal woe and bears the mind above. Hence David the prophet says:

The light of thy countenance is signed upon us, O Lord. [Ps 4.7]

The countenance of the Father is the Son; just as someone is recognised by their countenance, so the Father is recognised through the Son. The light of the countenance of God is therefore knowledge of the Son and the enlightening of faith, which was stamped and impressed upon the hearts of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, like a seal, and thus man was made a living soul.

11. On the seventh day God rested from all his works. Even so the Church rests in the seventh article of faith from all her labour and sweat. Then God shall wipe every tear from her eyes [Apoc 21.4], that is to say, every cause of weeping. Then she will be praised by her Spouse, and be found worthy to hear the words:

Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates, [Prov 31.31]

the gates, that is, of judgements. Then she together with her children shall hear the still small voice, Come, ye blessed.

In these seven days and seven articles, described briefly and in passing, we approach the task of expounding the six virtues of the faithful soul, which are the moral significance of the six hours referred to in the Gospel reading; together with the meaning of the penny and of the sabbath.

So, dear brothers, let us ask the Word of the Father, the first principle of all creation, that in the seven days of this life, while we are living according to the body, we may live according to the soul in the seven articles of faith; by which we may be found worthy to come to him who is the life, and the sabbath rest, and the reward of the saints; by him who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.

(On the second clause. In the second clause of the Gospel, first a sermon on contrition of heart for penitents: God said: Be light made, and light was made.)

12. We will now treat in more detail the things of Jerusalem, that is to say of the faithful soul, which in Matthew is called a vineyard, inasmuch as it has to be dug around with the hoe of contrition, pruned with the sickle of confession, and supported by the stakes of satisfaction.

God said, Be light made. And light was made. Just as Ezekiel speaks of a wheel within a wheel [cf. Ezek 1.16], so is the New Testament within the Old; and just as curtain is coupled to curtain [cf. Ex 26.3], so the New explains the Old. In this way let us concord the New Testament with the Old, as we explain the moral sense of the six hours of the Gospel reading in terms of the six days of creation.

13. On the first day, then, God said, Be light made. And light was made. Hear how this is concordant with the first hour:

The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning. [Matt 20.1]

Note that there are six virtues of the soul, namely: contrition of heart, confession by the mouth, satisfaction in works, love of God and neighbour, the exercise of the active and contemplative life, and the completion of final perseverance. When the darkness of mortal sin is `upon the face of the deep' (that is, of the heart), man suffers ignorance as regards knowledge of God, and as regards his own frailty; and he does not know how to distinguish between good and evil. This is that three day period spoken of in Exodus, when

for three days there was a darkness that could be felt in the land of Egypt; but where the children of Israel were there was light. [cf. Ex 10.21-23]

The three days are: the knowledge of God, the knowledge of oneself, and the ability to distinguish good and evil. St Augustine1 prays like this for the first two: "Lord, grant that I may know you and myself." Genesis speaks of the third in the text:

The tree of good and evil was in paradise, [cf. Gen 2.9]

that is, the ability to distinguish between good and evil was in the mind of man.

The first day enlightens us to know the dignity of our soul; whence Ecclesiasticus says:

Keep thy soul in meekness and give it honour. [Ecclus 10.31]

But wretched man,

when he was in honour, did not understand;

he was made like the senseless beasts. [Ps 48.13]

The second day enlightens us to know our own weakness, whence Micah says:

Thy humiliation shall be in the midst of thee. [Mic 6.14]

Our `midst' is our belly, the place where excrement is produced. In considering what defiles us our pride is humbled, our arrogance is trodden down, and our conceit is blown away.

The third day enlightens us to distinguish between day and night, between disease and wholeness, between what is clean and what is unclean. We have great need of this ability, for, as has been said,2 "What is evil is neighbour to what is good, and can be mistaken for it. Virtue has often been punished, instead of vice."

In these three days there is truly a darkness that can be felt in the land of Egypt, and upon the face of the deep; but wherever the true children of Israel are, there is light, the light of which God said Be light made. This is the light of contrition of heart, enlightening the soul, the light which shows the knowledge of God, the awareness of our own weakness and the distinction between good and evil in man.

14. This is the first morning and the first hour, when the householder (that is, the penitent) goes forth to hire labourers to work in his vineyard, as the Gospel for this Sunday relates. In the Introit of the Mass we sing, The sorrows of death came about me, and the Epistle read is that of the blessed Paul to the Corinthians: Know ye not that those who run in the stadium, etc. Of this morning the Psalmist says:

In the morning I will stand before you. [Ps 5.5]

that is, in the beginning of grace I shall stand as true and upright as you made me to be. For, as St Augustine3 says, "God, who is true and upright, made man to be true and upright, so that only the soles of his feet should touch the ground; in other words, so that he might seek from the earth only those things that are necessary." Of this morning it is said in Mark:

And very early on the first day after the sabbath they came to the tomb, the sun being already risen. [Mk 16.2]

Note that it is well-called `the first day after the sabbath', because no-one can come to the tomb (that is, to the consideration of his death), unless he first rests from the care of temporal things. As the Psalmist says:

In the morning I put to death all the wicked in the land. [Ps 100.8]

(that is, in contrition I put down all the movements of my flesh). The Bridegroom says of the penitent soul:

Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising? [Cant 6.9]

15. As the dawn is the beginning of day and the end of night, so contrition is the end of sin and the beginning of repentance. And so the Apostle says:

You were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord; [Eph 5.8]

and again:

The night is passed and day is at hand. [Rom 13.12]

So at first light and early in the morning the householder goes out to tend the vineyard, of which Isaiah says:

A vineyard was made for the beloved in the horn of a son of oil.

He fenced it around, and took out stones from it;

and he built a tower in the midst of it, and made a winepress in it,

and planted a choice vine. [Is 5.1-2]

The vineyard is the soul. It is made for the beloved, that is, for the honour of the beloved. `In a horn' means `in the strength of the Passion'. The Beloved is `a son of oil', that is to say, of mercy; for only by mercy, and not by the works of justice which we have done [Tit 3.5], did he make that vineyard safe; which he fenced round with the hedge of the written law and the law of grace. Solomon speaks of this in Proverbs:

He that breaketh down a hedge, a serpent shall bite him, [Eccles 10.8]

meaning that he who destroys the law will be bitten by the devil, who `cultivates shadows' (that is, sinners). And so Job says:

He sleepeth under the shade, he rests in the covert of the reed, and in moist places. [Job 40.16]

That is, with overcast mind he rests in the deceit of the hypocrite and in extravagance.

There follows: And he removed stones from it (the hardness of sin); he built a tower in the midst of it (humility, or else the superior part of reason); and set up the winepress of contrition, from which is pressed out the wine of tears; and so, by the examples and teachings of the saints, he planted a choice vine where at early morn the householder may bring the labourers (that is, the love and fear of God) who will tend it well.

(A sermon for penitents: Saul came in.)

16. Concerning this morn we read that:

Saul came into the midst of the camp of the sons of Ammon in the morning watch, and he slew the Ammonites until the heat of the day. [cf. 1 Sam 11.11]

Saul stands for penitence, having been anointed with the oil of grace; `at the morning watch' (contrition of heart) he must enter the midst of the camp of the sons of Ammon (Ammon means `paternal water', and stands for the movements of the flesh which from our first parent flow into us like running water). These Saul must strike down until the heat of the day, that is, until the fervour of grace irradiates the mind and warms it by its radiation.

(A sermon against the rich: The Lord prepared a worm.)

Again, concerning this morn you find in the prophet Jonah that

The Lord prepared a worm when the morning arose, and it struck the ivy and it withered. [Jon 4.7]

Ivy cannot raise itself up by itself. It seeks a higher position by clinging to the branches of another tree, and so stands for the man rich in the wealth of this world, who is lifted up to heaven not by himself but by the alms he gives to the poor, as it were clinging to the branches. And so our Lord says in the Gospel:

Make you friends of the mammon of iniquity [that is, of in-equity] that when you shall fail they may receive you. [Lk 16.9]

As the morning arises, the ivy is struck and cut down by the teeth of a worm; that is, at the rising of grace or of contrition of heart the penitent experiences the gnawing of conscience. Then, as the ivy falls to the ground, so the penitent regards himself as earth, becoming in his own eyes dried up and worthless, and saying with the Psalmist:

My flesh and my heart hath fainted away; [Ps 72.26]

that is, the pride of my heart and my carnal nature.

Having dealt with these matters of the first day and the early morning of contrition, we now pass to the second day and the third hour of confession.

(A sermon for those confessing: Let there be a firmament.)

17. On the second day God said: Let a firmament be made in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. The firmament is confession, which firmly binds a man so that he does not slip into dissipation. The Lord reproves the sinful soul which lacks this firmament, through Jeremiah:

How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter? [Jer 31.22]

and through Isaiah:

Pass thy land as a river, O daughter of the sea; for thou hast a girdle no more. [Is 23.10]

The wretched soul is called `daughter of the sea', sucking the pleasure of the world as from the devil's breast: sweet-tasting but giving rise to eternal bitterness. So James says:

When concupiscence hath conceived it bringeth forth sin; but sin when it is completed begetteth death. [Jas 1.15]

This is the point of the words, Pass thy land as a river. It is as if to say: Gird yourself with the girdle of confession and hitch up your garments, lest they drag in the dirt. Do not try to cross upon the bridge of earthly wealth; on it many have been endangered. Cross rather by the scarcity and narrowness of poverty, for a narrow stream is crossed in security of soul. But `there is no girdle' for the sinful soul, meaning that there is not the firm ground of confession. Hence the words, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. The waters above are the flowings of grace; the waters below are the flowings of concupiscence, which a man ought to thrust beneath him.

Alternatively, the mind of the just man possesses `waters above', that is to say, reason which is the superior power of the soul, and which always urges man to good. The `waters below', on the other hand, namely sensuality, always tend to drag him down. So the firmament of confession divides the upper waters from the lower, so that whoever confesses goes out of Sodom and up into the hills, not looking back like Lot's wife who was turned into a statue or pillar of salt [cf. Gen 19.17,26]. The animals (that is, the demons) eagerly consume that pillar by licking. When the just man goes out from Egypt with the true Israelites, journeying to the land of promise, he does not set up his own guide (that is to say, his own will) to lead him back to the fleshpots, peppers and pickles of the Egyptians (the desire for carnal things).

I pray then that there may be a firmament in the midst of the waters. Then, when the penitent has given his confessor the assurance of a firm purpose not to fall back, he will deserve, in the very act of confessing, to be inebriated with the new wine of the Holy Spirit, like the Apostles at the third hour. Made new by confession, he will be filled like a bottle with new wine. For as the Lord says:

If the new wine is put into an old bottle, the bottle will be broken and the wine spilt. [cf. Lk 5.37]

The new wine is the Holy Spirit, the old bottle is the former sinful life. That is what happened to the unrepentant traitor Judas, who was hung by the neck like a bottle and burst in the midst of his belly, so that his bowels, which had drunk dry the poison of avarice, were spilt upon the ground [cf. Acts 1.18].

Confession is well named `the third hour', because whoever makes a true confession is like a householder cultivating the vineyard of his soul. In three things he should confess himself blameworthy, namely, that he has offended God, killed himself, and been a stumbling-block to his neighbour. He has done this by not showing due justice to each: honour to God, care for himself, and love for his neighbour. Well may he complain, in the Introit of today's Mass, The pangs of death have encompassed me (because he has offended God), the pains of hell have surrounded me (because he has fallen into mortal sin), and in my tribulation (whereby he is troubled because he has scandalised his neighbour) I cried to the Lord (with contrition of heart); and from his holy temple (Christ's humanity, in which his divinity dwells) he heard my voice (that is, the voice of the penitent's confession).

(A sermon for penitents or enclosed religious: Who hath sent out the wild ass.)

18. On the third day God said:

Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as yieldeth seed according to its kind, having seed each one according to its kind upon the earth.

Note that by the third day is denoted the satisfaction of penance, which comprises three forms: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, which are signified by the three aforementioned things.

It is written, then, Let the earth bring forth the herb. The herb that grows signifies prayer; whence Job says of the penitent:

Who hath sent out the wild ass free?

and who hath loosed his bonds?

To whom I have given a house in the wilderness,

and his dwelling in the barren lands.

He scorneth the multitude of the city,

and heareth not the cry of the driver.

He looketh round about the mountains of his pasture,

and seeketh for every green thing. [Job 39.5-8]

The wild ass or onager is so-called from the words for `burden' (onus) and `field' (ager), and it signifies the penitent man, who in the field of the Church bears the burden of penance. This man the Lord lets go free, and looses his bonds, when he permits him to depart freed from the slavery of the devil and loosed from the bonds of sin. Whence in John the Lord says:

Loose him and let him go. [Jn 11.44]

To him God gives a house in the wilderness of the mind, and a dwelling of the active life wherein he serves in the barren lands of worldly conversation. And so the penitent scorns the multitude of the city, of which the Lord says through the prophet:

I am the Lord and I do not change, [Mal 3.6]

nor enter the city; and David says:

I have seen iniquity (as to God) and contradiction (as to neighbour) in the city. [Ps 54.10]

He hears not the cry of the driver. The driver or `exactor' is the devil, who once offered the coin of sin to the first parent and now ceaselessly demands daily repayment with usury. The penitent does not hear the voice of this exactor, since he pays no heed to his suggestions. Alternatively, the exactor may mean the belly, which daily demands clamorously the tribute of gluttony. But the penitent does not hear it at all, because he does not obey it for pleasure, only for necessity.

The wild ass looks around the mountains of his pasture because, being placed among the excellent things of life, he looks around and finds the pastures of Sacred Scripture; and he says with the Psalmist:

He hath set me in a place of pasture; [Ps 22.2]

and so he seeks for every green thing in the devotion of prayer, so that from the pasture of sacred reading he comes to browse on the greenery of devout prayer, of which it is said, Let the earth bring forth the green herb.

19. There follows, and producing seed, by which fasting is signified- whence Isaiah says:

Blessed are ye that sow upon the waters, entwining the foot of the ox and the ass. [Is 32.20]

He sows upon the waters, who adds fasting to both prayer and the compunction that brings tears, and in this way he `entwines' (with the bonds of the commandments) the foot (the affection) of the ox (the spirit) and the ass (the body). Thus the Lord says that this kind of demon (uncleanness of heart and the lust of the flesh) cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting [cf. Mt 19.21]. By prayer we cleanse the heart from impure thoughts; by fasting we restrain the wantonness of the flesh.

There follows thirdly: The fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind. In the fruit-tree almsgiving is signified, which bears fruit among the needy, and by their hands is carried back into heaven. Notice the words: yielding fruit according to its kind. The `kind' of man is the `other man', created of the ground and quickened by the soul. One should therefore give alms, the `fruit according to one's kind', because the soul is refreshed by spiritual, and the body by corporeal, bread. Whence Job says:

When thou visitest thy species, thou shalt not sin. [Job 5.24]

Your `species' is the other man, whom you ought to visit with alms both spiritual and corporeal; and in this way you will not sin against the commandment:

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. [Mt 22.39]

But note the words `whose seed is in itself'. On this, St Augustine4 comments: "He who wishes to give alms in due order, must start first with himself."

These three elements make perfect the satisfaction of penance, which is well represented by the sixth hour, namely mid-day, around which time the householder went out to send workers to cultivate the vineyard. Note too that mid-day, when the sun shines hotter than at any other part of the day, denotes the fervour of satisfaction. So towards the end of Deuteronomy we find:

Nephtali shall enjoy abundance, and shall be full of the blessing of the Lord: he shall possess the sea and the mid-day. [Dt 33.23]

Nephtali means `converted' or `enlarged', and signifies the penitent who is converted from his evil way and enlarged in good works. He shall be made fruitful in this life with the abundance of grace, and will be filled with the blessing of glory. In order to attain his reward he must first possess the `sea' (bitterness of heart) and the `mid-day' (fervour of satisfaction).

(A sermon on the love of God and neighbour: Let there be two lights. And note that from this text there can be drawn a sermon for the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Peter was the greater light, to rule the day, that is the Jews; Paul was the lesser light, to rule the night, that is the Gentiles.)

20. On the fourth day God said: Let there be two great lights in the firmament. The fourth virtue is the love of God and of neighbour: the love of God being signified by the brightness of the sun, and the love of neighbour by the changeableness of the moon. Does it not seem to you that there is a certain changeableness,

to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep? [Rom 12.15]

It is of these two things that there is said, towards the end of Deuteronomy,

The land of Joseph shall be filled with the fruits of the sun and the moon. [Dt 33.14]

These fruits stand for the works of the just man, on account of the gladness of perfection, the beauty of pure intention, and the sweet scent of good repute. These fruits are `of the sun and moon', namely of the love of God and of neighbour, which are the two things that make anyone perfect. This twofold love is represented by the ninth hour, when the householder went forth. The perfection of these twin loves leads to the perfection of angelic blessedness, which is depicted in nine orders by the prophet Ezekiel under the image of nine precious stones, when he addresses Lucifer:

Every precious stone was thy covering:

the sardius, the topaz, and the jasper,

the chrysolyte, and the onyx and the beryl,

the sapphire, and the carbuncle and the emerald. [Ezek 28.13]

(A sermon for contemplatives and on the property of the bird: Man is born to labour.)

21. On the fifth day God made the fishes in the sea and the birds above the earth. The fifth virtue is the exercise of the active and the contemplative life. The active man, like a fish, traverses the paths of the sea (the world) so as to be able to come to the aid of his neighbour who suffers need. Meanwhile the contemplative, like a bird, is lifted into the air upon the wings of contemplation and according to his capacity gazes upon the King in his beauty [Is 33.17]. As Job says,

Man is born to labour and the bird to fly. [Job 5.7]

`Labour' is the active life, `flight' the contemplative life. And note that just as the bird which has a wide breast, inasmuch as it holds much air, is driven back by the wind; and that which has a narrow and restricted breast flies faster and without difficulty, so the mind of the contemplative, if it is filled with many and varied thoughts, is greatly impeded in the flight of contemplation; whereas if it is unified and recollected it begins to fly and is made fruitful in the joy of its contemplation. The exercise of this two-fold life is represented by the eleventh hour, when the householder went forth. The eleventh hour is made up of one and ten. The contemplative life is `one', because it regards one God and one joy; the active life is `ten', a reference to the ten precepts of the Law, by which the active life itself is made fully perfect in this life of exile.

(A sermon on the two-fold glorification, namely of soul and body: There shall be month after month.)

22. On the sixth day God said: Let us make man to our own image and likeness. The sixth and last virtue of the soul is final perseverance, which is the tail of the sacrificial victim and the many coloured coat of Joseph. Without it the possession of the previous virtues is useless; with it their possession is profitable, and in it (as on the sixth day) the image and likeness of God is eternally imprinted upon the face of the soul. This image is never to be soiled, never obliterated, never defiled.

This Gospel evening is the last hour of human life, the hour wherein the householder, through the steward who is his Son, gives his wage to the good worker in the vineyard. By it is signified the sabbath, which is interpreted `rest'. It is to this that Isaiah refers when he says:

There shall be month after month,

meaning the perfection of glory coming from the perfection of this life, and

and sabbath after sabbath, [Is 66.23]

meaning eternal rest out of the rest of the heart, the double robe of soul and body.

The soul is glorified by three gifts, and the body by four. The soul is adorned with wisdom, friendship and concord. The wisdom of God is reflected in the face of the soul: she will see God as he is, and she will know as she is known [cf. 1Jn 3.2; 1Cor 13.12]. There will be friendship with God; whence Isaiah says:

Whose fire is in Zion, and a furnace in Jerusalem. [Is 31.9]

Zion is the Church militant, the furnace is most ardent love, and Jerusalem is the Church triumphant. There will be harmony with neighbours, over whose glory she will rejoice just as much as over her own. The gifts of the body will be four in number: brightness, subtlety, agility and immortality, of which the Book of Wisdom says:

The just shall shine, (brightness)

and like sparks in the straw (subtlety)

they shall run to and fro, (agility)

and their Lord shall reign for ever. (immortality) [Wisd 3.7-8]

For he is God not of the dead but of the living [cf. Mt 22.32].

23. That we may deserve to receive this incorruptible crown, adorned with these seven precious stones, let us run as the Apostle bids us in today's Epistle:

Know you not that they that run in the stadium all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery refraineth himself in all things. And they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. [1Cor 9.24-25]

A stadium is the eighth part of a mile, and consists of one hundred and twenty five paces. It signifies the labour of this exile, in which we must run in unity of faith, with steps of love numbering one hundred and twenty five. In this number the whole perfection of divine love is represented. The `hundred', the perfect number, is the Gospel teaching; the `twenty' are the ten precepts of the Law, which are to be fulfilled both according to the letter and according to the spirit; the `five' are to be understood as the restraint of the pleasures of the five senses. He who runs in this stadium receives the prize, namely the reward of an incorruptible crown, concerning which the Apocalypse says:

I will give you the crown of life, says the Lord. [Apoc 2.10]

And so, dearest brethren, I pray and beseech that Lord with tears, that Lord who created and recreated us with his own blood; I pray that he may deign to establish us in the sevenfold eternal bliss. With him who is the Origin of all creatures, and by his grace, may we attain eternal life: who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.


1 cf. AUGUSTINE, Soliloquiorum II,1,1; PL 32.885

2 OVID, Remedia amoris, 323-324

3 cf. AUGUSTINE, De Genesi ad litteram, VI,12,22; PL 34.348

4 AUGUSTINE, Enchiridion, 76; PL 40.268

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


Translated by Paul Spilsbury TOP


(The second Gospel is for Sexagesima: The sower went out to sow. The Introit of the Mass: Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord? The Epistle: You gladly suffer. The History of Noah and his ark.)


(First, a sermon for preachers. The supreme preacher: Isaac sowed in the land of Gerar.)

1. The sower went out to sow his seed [Lk 8.5]

This is what Isaiah says to preachers:

Blessed are ye that sow upon all waters. [Is 32.20]

According to St John,

The waters are peoples; [Apoc 17.15]

and Solomon writes:

All the rivers run into the sea;

unto the place from whence the rivers come, they return again. [Eccles 1.7]

This suggests the two-fold bitterness of original sin and bodily death. For just as the rivers originate in the salty sea, so the peoples of the earth arise in the bitterness of original sin. David says:

Behold, I was conceived in iniquities, [Ps 50.7]

and St Paul says:

We were by nature children of wrath. [Eph 2.3]

And just as the rivers return to the sea, so human life ends in the bitterness of death. In the words of Ecclesiasticus:

A heavy yoke is upon the children of Adam,

from the day of their coming out of their mothers' womb

until the day of their burial in the mother of all, [Ecclus 40.1]


O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee! [Ecclus 41.1]

The Lord himself says to the sinner, You are earth, `soiled' in your very conception, and to earth you will return [cf. Gen 3.9] at the dissolution of your body. Let all this be as it were a background to the text, Blessed are ye that sow upon all waters.

The seed, as our Lord himself explains in today's Gospel, is the Word of God. I pray that I myself may be found worthy to share in the blessedness of the blessed! That is why I wish to cast seed upon you, in the name of Jesus Christ. He went forth from the bosom of the Father, and entered the world to sow his seed. The God of the New Testament is one and the same as the God of the Old, and is indeed Jesus Christ the Son of God. We may apply to him the words of Isaiah:

I myself that spoke, behold, I am here. [Is 52.6]

I spoke to the fathers in the prophets; I am here in the truth of the Incarnation. That is the justification for seeking to concord the scriptures of both Testaments, to God's honour and for the benefit of you, my hearers. Let us say, then, A sower went out to sow, etc.

2. This Sunday we read in Church the Gospel of the sower and the seed, while at Mattins we tell the story of Noah and how he built the ark. In the Introit of the Mass we sing, Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord? and in St Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians we read, You gladly suffer the foolish. These are the texts we must concord, in the Lord's name.

In the Gospel of the sower there are six things in particular for us to take note of: the sower, the seed, the wayside, the stony ground, the thorns and the good soil. In the same way there are six points in the story of Noah: Noah himself, and the ark with its five compartments, called the bilges (or `dung-hold'), the store-hold, the deck of the wild animals, that of the domestic animals, and that for human beings and birds. But note carefully that in this concordance the fourth and fifth will be taken as one. Let it be said, then: The sower went out, etc.

(A sermon on the making of the ark of Noah, and what it means: Make thee an ark.)

3. The sower stands both for Christ and for whoever preaches Christ. The seed is God's Word; the wayside those who live for pleasure; the stony ground those who make a pretence of religion; the thorns the greedy and covetous; and the good soil those who are penitent and righteous. This interpretation, as I say, is based on the recognised authorities.

The sower is Christ. You have in Genesis:

Isaac sowed in the land of Gerar, and that same year he received an hundredfold.

[Gen 26.12]

Isaac (whose name means `joy' or `laughter') may be taken as standing for Christ, who is the joy of the saints- those saints who, according to Isaiah, shall obtain joy and gladness [Is 35.10]. Joy from the glorified humanity of Christ, and gladness from the vision of the divine Trinity. Christ our Isaac `sowed in the land of Gerar', the land of exile. This refers to the world, of which the prophet says:

Woe is me that my sojourning is prolonged! [Ps 119.5]

(meaning, `my pilgrimage'). In the land of Gerar, in this world, he sows three sorts of seed: the example of his holy life, his preaching of the kingdom of heaven, and the miracles he performed.

And that same year he received a hundredfold. The whole life of Christ constitutes `the acceptable year of the Lord' of remission and goodwill. Just as a year has four seasons, winter, spring, summer and autumn, so Christ's life falls into four phases. It begins in winter, with Herod's persecution and the flight into Egypt. Its spring is the period of his preaching, when

the flowers appear in the earth,

in the promise of eternal life, and

the voice of the turtle is heard in our land, [Cant 2.12]

the voice of the Son of God, who cried out:

Do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand! [Mt 4.17]

The summer's heat stands for the Passion, after Isaiah's words:

He meditated with his severe spirit on the day of heat. [Is 27.8]

The `day of heat' is the Passion, and he endured it in a steadfast spirit, unflinchingly suffering upon the cross, and there taking thought for the destruction of the devil, the freeing of the human race from his power, and the eternal punishment of those obstinate in sin. The same prophet uses the phrase:

The day of vengeance is in my heart. [Is 63.4]

Autumn refers to the Resurrection, when his humanity was harvested, winnowed from the chaff of suffering and the dust of mortality, and stored in the barn, the right hand of God the Father. How appropriate the words, In the same year he received a hundredfold, for he chose the apostles to whom he said: Ye shall receive an hundredfold [Mt 19.29]. He also carried home upon his own shoulders, fastened to the cross- carried home rejoicing- the hundredth sheep, the human race, to join the company of the nine orders of angels. Yes, indeed! The sower is clearly Christ!

4. Christ is also symbolised by Noah, to whom God said:

Make thee an ark of timber planks; thou shalt make in the ark little rooms, and thou shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And thus shalt thou make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.

[Gen 6.14-15]

The name Noah means `rest', and again refers to Jesus Christ who said in the Gospel:

Come to me all you that labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. [Mt 11.28]

We labour in Egypt, in the mud of lust and the bricks of avarice; and we are burdened with the heavy yoke of pride. Genesis says:

This same shall comfort us from the works and labours of our hands on the ground which the Lord hath cursed. [Gen 5.29]

the Father said, Make thee an ark. This ark represents the Church. Christ, then, went out to sow his seed, and he also went out to build his Church. He built it of `smoothed' wood, meaning those who are holy, pure and perfect. He lined it with the pitch of mercy and love, both withinthat is, in their inner affections- and without, in the effect of their works. The length is three hundred cubits. The Church contains three categories of people- prelates, religious and married people- who are represented by Noah, Daniel and Job. The width is fifty cubits. This reminds us of the Church's penitents, because it was on the fiftieth day after the Passover that grace was poured out on the apostles by the Holy Spirit. It is also in the fiftieth psalm, Have mercy on me, O God, that remission of sins is promised to those who are penitent. The height is thirty cubits, and this reminds us of the ordinary faithful of the Church, who believe in the Holy Trinity. In short, then, Christ goes out from the bosom of the Father and comes into the world to sow his seed and to build his Church, in which the incorruptible and everlasting harvest is to be stored.

5. There follows, regarding the seed: The seed is the word of God, to which Solomon is referring when he says: In the morning sow thy seed [Eccles 11.6]. In the morning- that is to say, in the time of grace which drives away the darkness of sin. That is the time, O preacher, to sow your seed, that Word which has been entrusted to you. The seed which is sown in the ground germinates and grows,

first the blade, then the ear, afterwards the full corn in the ear, [Mk 4.28]

as our Lord says in St Mark's Gospel. In the same way, the Word of God sown in the heart of a sinner first produces the blade of contrition. We read in Genesis,

Let the earth bring forth the green herb, [Gen 1.11]

and in the same way the heart of a sinner brings forth contrition. Then comes the `ear' which is confession. Confession lifts up the soul by giving her the hope of forgiveness. Finally, the `full corn in the ear' is satisfaction. The Psalmist says,

The vales shall abound with corn. [Ps 64.14]

The humble and penitent bring forth the fulness of satisfaction, so that penalty and fault are in due proportion. Well said, then: The sower went out to sow his seed.

(A sermon against the lustful: And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside.)

6. But not everyone is faithful! Not everyone obeys the Gospel! That is why the parable continues:

And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. [Lk 8.5]

The bottom-most chamber of Noah's ark, traditionally, is the bilge or `dung-hold'. The pathway trodden under foot and this `dung-hold' have the same meaning. They stand for those who pursue the pleasures of lust. Solomon says:

Every woman that is a harlot shall be trodden like dung upon the path, [Ecclus 9.10]

and Isaiah has this rebuke for the lustful:

Thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as a way to them that went over. [Is 51.23]

This refers to the devils, who as they pass tread down the seed so that it does not germinate. Isaiah says again:

The crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim shall be trodden under feet. [Is 28.31]

Ephraim means `fruitful', and it stands for the abundance of temporal goods. The drunkards are the pleasure-seekers who are inebriated with the gold chalice of Babylon, temporal abundance; and the crown of pride on the head is the haughty thought of a corrupt mind. This will be trodden by the feet of the demons when the impure thought issues in the besotted action of lust. Indeed, the seed of the Lord cannot germinate in such accursed soil!

The demons are also referred to as `fowls of the air', because of their pride and because they are supposed to dwell in the air. They seize and devour the seed from the lustful hearts, lest it bear fruit. Hosea says:

Strangers have devoured his strength, [Hos 7.9]

meaning that the demons have eaten the strength of the divine word. Notice also that the seed is said to have fallen by, rather than in, the wayside, because the lustful man does not receive the word within his heart's ear, but as a mere sound that lightly passes by the ear of his body. Such folk are the `dung-hold', stinking like oxen in their dung. The Psalmist says of them:

They perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth. [Ps 82.11]

Endor means `the fire of generation', that is, `the heat of lust'. From this dung four worms are generated, namely: simple fornication, adultery, incest, and sin against nature. Simple fornication is a mortal sin between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is called `fornication' from formae necatio, the death of the soul made in the likeness of God. Adultery (alterius torum) is the sin of approaching the marriage-bed of another. Incest is sin between those closely related by blood or marriage. Sin against nature refers to any act whereby the semen is ejaculated other than in the proper place for conception, the vagina of a woman. All these are `the way trodden down by demons', the `dung-hold of the ark'. In them the seed of the divine word perishes and is snatched away by the devil.

(A sermon against false religious: And some fell upon a rock.)

7. There follows:

And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. [Lk 8.6]

The second chamber in Noah's ark is the store-hold, and both rock and store-hold stand for false religious. The rock, because they glory in the excellence of their religion; the store-hold, because they exchange what is truly valuable in their lives for the coin of human praise. Some fell upon a rock is a phrase recalling the words of the prophet Obadiah rebuking a proud religious man:

The pride of thy heart hath lifted thee up,

who dwellest in the clefts of the rock,

who setteth up thy throne on high. [Ob 1.3]

Pride (superbia, from super-eo, `go above'), the pride of your heart, O you religious man, has lifted you up out of yourself, so that in vanity you go above yourself and dwell in the clefts of the rock! The `rock' refers to the religious state in the Church (of any Order), recalling the words of Jeremiah:

The snow shall never fail from the rock of the field. [Jer 18.14]

The field is the Church, the rock of the field is the religious life founded upon the rock of faith, and the snow is cleanness of mind and heart which should never be lacking from that state. But alas, alas! How many clefts, splits, divisions and dissensions are in the rock, in religious life! If the seed of the divine word falls here, it bears no fruit because it does not have the moisture of the Holy Spirit, which does not dwell in the clefts of discord but in the habitations of unity.

They were of one heart and one soul, [Acts 4.32]

says St Luke. Truly there are clefts where there is strife in Chapter, carelessness in choir, wantonness in the dormitory! How well the Lord says And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up it withered away, because (in St Matthew's words) it had no root, meaning humility which is the root of all virtues. See how obvious it is that divisions in religious life come from pride of heart! Without the root of humility, how can it bear fruit?

Such religion is just a warehouse, the `store-hold of the ark'. After internal division comes a hankering for worldly praise. Like shop-keepers in the market-place, false religious sell goods that are just showy. Under the religious habit, disguised by a false appearance, they seek praise. They make a pretence of perfection among men, seeking to pose as saints without the trouble of actually being saints! What a disgrace! Religious life should preserve the beauty of virtue, the sweet smell of a good life- yet it is destroyed and made a place of barter! This is what Joel deplores when he says:

The barns are destroyed, the storehouses are broken down;

because the corn is confounded. [Joel 1.17]

We may apply these words to the cloisters of canons and the monasteries of monks. The corn, white inside and golden outside, stands for charity which maintains purity with respect to oneself and love with respect to our neighbour. This corn is so scattered that when it falls upon the rock it withers as it springs up, because it lacks the root of humility and the moisture of the sevenfold grace. See how from the loss of charity (the scattering of the grain) there follows the destruction of religious life (the barn in which it should be stored.

(A sermon against the avaricious and usurers: And some fell among thorns.)

8. There follows:

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns growing up with it, choked it. [Lk 8.7]

The third chamber in Noah's ark is the hold of the wild, undomesticated, animals. Thorns and wild beasts have much in common! They both represent greedy and covetous people. Avarice is like thorns which catch, pierce and draw blood. Covetousness is like a wild animal that seizes and devours. When the Lord says, Some fell among thorns, he provides the gloss himself: the thorns are riches, which catch a man and hold him back. Peter, so as not be caught and held in that way, told the Lord:

Behold, we have left all things and followed thee. [Mt 19.27]

St Bernard1 comments, "Well done, Peter! You could hardly follow a running man while carrying a burden!" The thorns pierce, too. Jeremiah says:

Egypt is like a fair and beautiful heifer, but destruction cometh out of the north. [Jer 46.20]

Egypt (meaning `darkness') is the avaricious man, in the darkness of ignorance. He is a `heifer' both on account of his lustful flesh and of his unstable mind. He is `very fair', crowded round with family and hangers-on, `very fair' too with all his houses and fine raiment. But `destruction' (the devil) comes from `the north', for as Jeremiah says elsewhere:

From the north an evil shall break forth. [Jer 1.14]

The devil stings him with the sting of avarice, so that he runs hither and thither to gather the thorns, those riches of which Isaiah says:

As a bundle of thorns they shall be burnt with fire. [Is 33.12]

The thorn pierces, and as it pierces it draws blood. According to Moses,

The life of all flesh is in the blood. [Lev 17.14]

The lifeblood of the soul is virtue, wherein the soul lives. The avaricious man loses this lifeblood, virtue, when he sets his heart on amassing riches. Ecclesiasticus says:

There is not a more wicked thing than to love money,

for such a one setteth his own soul to sale. [Ecclus 10.10]

The Lord says of such, Thorns sprang up and choked it, and Hosea:

The burr and the thistle shall grow up over their altars. [Hos 10.8]

The burr is a weed which clings to the clothing, while the thistle troubles by pricking the skin. These `burrs and thistles' are riches, which stick to the passer-by or prick him. These `come up on their altars', the hearts of the covetous, upon which they ought to offer God the sacrifice of a contrite heart. They choke the seed of God's word, and the sacrifice of a broken heart.

9. Concordant to the thorns in the parable are the wild animals in Noah's ark, which aptly symbolise pitiless usurers. The Psalmist speaks of

The great and wide sea, wherein are creeping things without number,

creatures little and great. There the ships go. [Ps 103.25-26]

`The sea' is this world, full of bitterness, great with riches, wide with delights. Wide is the path that leads to death, but to whom? Not to the poor of Christ who `enter through the narrow gate'. Rather to grasping usurers, who have already taken the whole world into their hands. Because of their usuries, churches are impoverished and monasteries stripped of their goods. The Lord complained of them through Joel:

A nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number;

his teeth are like the teeth of a lion,

and his cheek teeth as of a lion's whelp.

He hath laid my vineyard waste,

and hath pilled of the bark from my fig tree;

he hath stripped it bare, and cast it away;

the branches thereof are made white. [Joel 1.6-7]

The accursed race of usurers has multiplied upon the earth, with teeth like the teeth of a lion. The lion has two characteristics- a stiff neck containing only one bone, and stinking teeth. The usurer likewise is inflexible, neither fearing God nor regarding man. His teeth stink because the dirt of money and the dung of usury are always in his mouth. His cheek teeth, the molars, are like a lion-cub's because he seizes the goods of the poor, of orphans and widows, chews them up and swallows them. He makes the vineyard, God's Church, a desert when he holds onto its possessions as pledges of usury. He barks, strips and despoils the Lord's fig tree (any religious house) when he appropriates to himself the goods given to that community by the faithful. Its branches are made white, as the monks or canons professed in it are afflicted with hunger and thirst. See the hands that purport to bestow alms, but are stained with the blood of the poor! No wonder the Psalmist speaks of creeping things without number in the world!

We may observe three kinds of usurer: those who lend money privately, who may be described as creeping things without number; those who do so openly, but only in a small way, so as to seem merciful- these are the small beasts; and the faithless, hopeless and open usurers who, as openly as in a market place, take interest from all and sundry. These are the great beasts, crueller than all the rest. They will be pursued by the demon huntsmen and slain with an eternal death, unless they restore their ill-gotten gains and do penance. To give them the opportunity to do so, there go the ships among them, the preachers of the Church who pass among them and sow the seed of God's word. Yet, though our sins need it, the thorns of riches and the wild beasts of usury choke the word sown so devotedly, so that it does not produce the fruit of penance.

(A sermon for actives and contemplatives: And some fell on good ground.)

10. There follows:

Some fell on good ground, and being sprung up yielded fruit,some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, some an hundred-fold. [Lk 8.8]

The fourth chamber of Noah's ark is that containing the domesticated animals, and the fifth is that containing men and birds. You have seen, beloved, how in the previous cases- the wayside or dung-hold of the lustful, the stony ground or store-hold of the proud religious, and the thorns or wild beasts of the avaricious and usurers- the seed of God's word could bear no fruit. That is why the faithful of God's Church cry out in the Introit of today's Mass:

Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord?

Arise, and cast us not off to the end:

wherefore turnest thou thy face away

and forgettest our want and our trouble?

Our soul is humbled down to the earth;

arise, O Lord, help us and redeem us. [Ps 43.23]

Three times they say, `Arise!', because of the wayside, the stony ground and the thorns. Arise, O Lord, against the lustful who are in the way of the devil, and who, because they themselves sleep in sin, believe that you sleep also! Arise against false religious, who are like stony ground devoid of the moisture of grace! Arise against the usurers, who are like piercing thorns! Help us and free us from their hands! In these three, O Lord, the seed of your word can bear no fruit. Only when it falls on good ground does it become fruitful.

11. Note how well the good ground is concordant to the domesticated animals, men and birds. These stand for righteous, penitent souls, both active and contemplative. The good earth which the Lord has blessed is that righteous mind of which the Psalmist says:

Let all the earth adore thee and sing to thee:

let it sing a psalm to thy name. [Ps 65.4]

The whole earth means east, west, north and south. The righteous mind is the eastern land when it considers its origin; the western when it remembers its death; the north when it considers the temptations and miseries of this world; and the southern when it considers eternal blessedness. So may all the earth, the good and righteous mind, worship you, O God, in spirit and in truth and in contrition of heart. This is to bring forth fruit thirty-fold. Let it praise you by confessing your name and acknowledging its own sin. This is to bring forth fruit sixty-fold. Let it sing a psalm to your name in works of satisfaction and in final perseverance. This is the perfect, hundred-fold, fruit.

12. An alternative interpretation is to take the good earth as Holy Church itself, the Ark of Noah with the domestic animals, birds and men. The domestic animals are those faithful who are married, performing works of penance, giving to the por, injuring no-one. The Apostle refers to them in today's Epistle:

You gladly suffer the foolish; whereas you yourselves are wise. For you suffer if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take from you, if a man be lifted up, if a man strike you on the face. [2Cor 11.19-20]

These are they that bring forth fruit thirty-fold. `Men' stand for those who are both continent and active. They are truly `men', using their reason. These submit themselves to the labour of the active life, exposing themselves to danger for their neighbour's sake, preaching eternal life by word and example, watching over themselves and those in their care. These, in St Paul's words, are

in labour and painfulness; in much watchings; in hunger and thirst; in fastings often; in cold and nakedness, etc. [2Cor 11.27]

These bring forth fruit sixty-fold. The `birds' in the upper part of the ark represent virgins and contemplatives, who are lifted up on the wings of virtue, and contemplate the King in his beauty. These are taken up into the air (in mind rather than in body), rapt in contemplation to the third heaven, contemplating the glory of the Trinity in pureness of spirit, where they hear with the heart's ear what they cannot express in words, or even comprehend with their mind. these are they that bear fruit a hundred-fold.

O Lord Jesus, make us, we pray, that good earth which is able to receive the word of your grace and to bear fruit, fruit worthy of repentance. So may we be found worthy to live eternally in your glory, in your presence; you who are blessed for ever and ever. Amen.


1 cf. BERNARD [=GAUFRIDUS], Declamationes, 2; PL 184.438

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


Translated by Paul Spilsbury



(The third Gospel, for Quinquagesima: A blind man sat by the wayside.)


(First, a sermon for preachers: Samuel took.)

1. A blind man sat by the way-side, and cried: Son of David, have mercy on me. [Lk 18.35,38]

The First Book of Kings tells how

Samuel took a little vial of oil; and poured it upon Saul's head. [1Sam 10.1]

The name Samuel means `asked for', and signifies the preacher who is asked for by the Church from Jesus Christ, who says in the Gospel:

Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest. [Mt 9.38]

He must take a vial of oil (a four-sided vessel, representing the teaching of the four-fold Gospel), and from it he must pour the oil of preaching upon the head of Saul, that is, the mind of the sinner. Saul means `misuse', and is a suitable name for the sinner who misuses the gifts of grace and of nature.

Note that oil both anoints and gives light. In the same way preaching anoints and softens the skin of the sinner (his conscience), `grown old in evil days' [cf. Dan 13.52] and hardened by sin. It anoints the athlete of Christ, and sends him forth to the contest, to do battle against the powers of the air. Just so, in the third book of Kings, Zadok anointed Solomon in Gihon. Zadok is `righteous', meaning the preacher who, like a priest, offers sacrifice upon the altar of the Lord's Passion. He anoints Solomon (`peaceful') in Gihon (`struggle'). The preacher, with the oil of preaching, must anoint the converted sinner for the struggle, so that he does not give in to the suggestions of the devil, treads down the allurements of the flesh, and despises the deceitful world. Oil also gives light, and preaching enlightens the eye of reason, so that it becomes capable of seeing the light of the true sun. In the name of Jesus Christ, then, I will take up the vial of the holy Gospel, and from it I will pour the oil of preaching, to enlighten the eyes of that blind man of whom it is said: A blind man sat.

2. This Sunday we read the Gospel of the enlightening of the blind man, which also speaks of the Passion of Christ. In the Office we read the story of Abraham's wanderings and the sacrifice of his son Isaac. The Introit at Mass is, Be thou my God and defender, and the Epistle (from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians) is, If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. So, for the honour of God and the enlightenment of your soul, let us concord all these things!

(A sermon against the proud man: A blind man sat; and on the property of a nest, and of menstrual blood.)

3. A blind man sat. Passing over all the other blind men who had their sight restored, we will mention only three. The first is the man in the Gospel, blind from birth, whose sight was restored with mud and spittle. The second is Tobias, blinded by the swallow's dung, but cured by the fish's gall. The third is the Bishop of Laodicea, to whom the Lord says in the Apocalypse:

Thou knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold, fire-tried, that thou mayest be made rich and mayest be clothed in white garments; and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear. And anoint thy eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. [Apoc 3.17.18]

We shall explore the meaning of each of these.

The man blind from birth is the human race, blinded by our first parents. Taking this story allegorically, Jesus enlightened the blind man when he spat on the ground and spread mud on his eyes. Spittle (coming from the head) represents the divine nature; earth is human nature. The mixture of spittle and dust is the union of the divine and human natures, by which the whole human race was restored to light. This is also the meaning of the blind man's words as he sat by the way-side and cried out, Have mercy on me, (referring to the divinity), Son of David, (referring to his humanity).

4. Morally. The blind man stands for the proud man, whose pride is described like this by the prophet Obadiah:

Though thou be exalted as an eagle,

and though thou set thy nest among the stars:

thee will I bring down, says the Lord. [Ob 1.4]

The eagle, which flies higher than any other bird, represents the proud man, who seeks to seem higher than everyone else, by the two wings of arrogance and vainglory. To him is said, If among the stars (that is, among the saints who in this dark world shine like stars in the firmament) you set your place (your life), Thence I will bring you down, says the Lord. The proud man tries to establish the nest of his life in the company of the saints; which is why Job says:

The wing of the ostrich is like the wings of the heron and of the hawk. [Job 39.13]

The ostrich is the hypocrite, the hawk the just man. A nest has three characteristics: it is lined with soft material inside, but it is hard and prickly outside, and it is set precariously, exposed to the wind. In the same way the life of the proud man has a certain inner softness, sensual pleasure; but outwardly it is all girt about with the thorns and dry sticks of dead works. Moreover, it is exposed to the wind of vanity, and set precariously, for the man does not know from evening to morning when he will be taken from the midst of it. So these words follow: Thence I will bring you down. I will pull you out of it and thrust you to the depths, says the Lord; and in the Apocalypse he says:

As much as she hath glorified herself and lived in delicacies,

so much torment and sorrow give ye to her. [Apoc 18.7]

5. Note that the blind, proud man is enlightened by spittle and mud. The spittle stands for his father's seed, which was emitted into the sorrowful frame of his mother, wherein the wretched man was conceived. Pride would not have blinded him if he had but paid attention to the lowly circumstances of his origin. Isaiah says:

Look unto the rock whence you are hewn,

and to the hole of the pit from which you are dug out. [Is 51.1]

We may regard `the rock' as a reference to our father according to the flesh; while `the hole of the pit' refers to our mother's body. From him we are hewn out in the effusion of seed; from her we are dug out in the pain of child-birth. What is there to be proud of, wretched man, begotten from vile spittle and created in an abhorrent pit, where for nine months you were nourished with the blood of menstruation? If this blood touches the crops they will not ripen; the vintages turn sour, plants die, trees lose their fruit. Iron becomes rusty and bronze is tarnished. If dogs consume it they become rabid, and their bite becomes deadly, causing madness. Indeed, even women (when there is no need, and though they are subject to the laws of their nature) may not gaze upon it with guiltless eyes. Mirrors crack as if struck by lightning, and the bright reflection is beclouded and darkened. If only you would attentively ponder these things, wretched man, proud blind man, and remember that you are born of `spittle and mud', in very truth you would be enlightened, and you would become truly humble.

And to confirm the foregoing interpretation of Isaiah, that it is a reference to carnal generation, the following verse makes it clear:

Look unto Abraham your father and to Sarah that bare you.

The Lord tells the proud blind man to

Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father's house. [Gen 12.1]

There are three sorts of pride: towards inferiors, towards equals and towards superiors. The proud man treads underfoot, despises and mocks. He treads on his inferiors as on the ground (indeed, he `grinds them down'). He despises his equals ("familiarity breeds contempt") and has no difficulty in looking down on those close to him. He even mocks his superior, whom he should respect as his father. The superior may well be termed `his father's house', because he should be subject to him as a son in the paternal home. Here there is shelter from the rain of carnal lust, the storm of devilish persecution and the heat of worldly prosperity. But the blind, proud man turns up his nose and pulls a face at his superior; so the Lord says "Go out, O proud blind man! Go out from your country, lest you tread on your inferior. Go out from your kindred, lest you despise your equals. Go out from your father's house, lest you mock your superior."

6. There follows: And go into the land which I will show you. This land is the humanity of Jesus Christ, of which the Lord is speaking when he tells Moses, in Exodus,

Put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. [Ex 3.5]

The shoes are dead works, which you must put off your feet (the affections of your mind) because the ground (the humanity of Jesus Christ on which you stand by faith) is holy and sanctifies you, sinner that you are. Go then, proud man, go into the land. Consider the humanity of Christ, attend to his humility, repress the swelling of your heart. Go, I say, with steps of love. Draw near in humbleness of heart and say with the prophet,

In thy truth thou hast humbled me. [Ps 118.75]

O Father, in your Truth (that is to say, in your Son, humbled, needy and homeless) you have humbled me. He was humbled in the womb of the Virgin, needy in the manger of the sheep, and homeless on the wood of the Cross. Nothing so humbles the proud sinner as the humility of Jesus Christ's humanity. So Isaiah says:

O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and wouldst come down.

The mountains would melt away at thy presence. [Is 64.1]

The mountains of pride melt away and fail before your face, present in the humanity of Jesus Christ, considering the head of divinity bowed down in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

Go into the land which I have pointed out to you as with a finger at the River Jordan, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased [Mt 3.17]. You too will be my beloved in whom I am well pleased, my son adopted by grace, if only you will be humbled by the example of my co-equal Son, whom I will show you in such a way that from the shape of his life you may shape the conduct of your own life. So shaped, you will receive life and be enabled to hear the words, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Your faith has enlightened you.

(A sermon against the lukewarm and lustful: It happened one day.)

7. The second blind man is Tobias, who was blinded by the swallow's droppings, but cured by the fish's gall. In the Book named after him we are told:

Now it happened one day that, being wearied with burying, he came to his house and cast himself down beside the wall and slept. And as he was sleeping, hot dung out of a swallow's nest fell upon his eyes, and he was made blind. [Tob 2.10-11]

Very briefly, we must see what is meant by Tobias, burying, the house, the wall, sleep, the nest, the swallows and their dung: Tobias is the righteous but luke-warm man; burying is doing penance; the house is the care of the body; the wall is the pleasure of the body; the sleep is the torpor of negligence; the nest is the consent of an enfeebled mind; the swallows are the demons; and their dung is greed and lust. Let us say, then: Tobias, wearied from burying, etc.

Tobias here stands for the good man who is only luke-warm. As the Lord says in the Apocalypse,

Because thou art neither cold (with the fear of punishment)

nor hot (with the love of grace),

but because thou art luke-warm I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. [Apoc 3.16]

Just as tepid water induces vomiting, so half-heartedness and negligence expel the lazy and luke-warm from the bowels of divine mercy. Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord negligently [cf. Jer 48.10].

Wearied from burying he comes to his house. Tired of doing penance (by means of which he buries the corpses of mortal sin (as the Scripture says, Blessed are they whose sins are covered) he reverts to the care of the flesh and its desires, against the advice of the Apostle.

So it continues: he cast himself down beside the wall. This wall is the pleasure of the flesh. Just as in a wall one stone is laid upon another, and they are cemented together, so in fleshly pleasure the sins of the eye are added to those of the ear, and those of the ear to those of taste, and so on, and bad habit fastens them all together like mortar. So the sinner sleeps, relaxed in the torpor of carelessness, and the dung of the swallows falls upon his eyes.

The swallows, because they fly so swiftly, represent the demons whose pride seeks to soar above the stars of the sky, to the height of the clouds and to an equality with the Father like that of the Son [cf. Is 14.13-14].

The devils' nest is the consent of an enfeebled mind, and it is made of the feathers of vainglory and the mud of wantonness. From a nest like this the droppings of greed and lust fall upon the eyes of the sleeping Tobias, and his reason and understanding, the eyes of his unhappy soul, are blinded.

8. Do be watchful, dear brethren, and beware of falling into such a sad state. First comes weariness of burying (penance), then return to the house of carnal care and, with an appearance of necessity, repose beside the wall of pleasure. While overcome by the sleep of negligence one is blinded by the dung of lust. As the poet1 says,

"If you ask why Aegisthus became an adulterer,

the reason is clear: he had nothing better to do!"

So cry out, luke-warm Tobias, you blind and lustful man lying by the wall! Cry, Have mercy on me, Son of David!

In the Introit of today's Mass the blind man prays for enlightenment, saying, Be thou my God and defender. He prays for four things. First, in the words, Be thou my God and defender, he asks God to protect and defend him with arms outstretched on the Cross, as a hen spreads her wings over her young. Secondly, saying, and a place of refuge, he seeks in Christ's side, pierced by the lance, a place of refuge in which to hide from the face of the enemy. Thirdly, he says, Thou art my upholder (lest I fall) and my refuge. On you I fall back, casting myself on you alone and on no other. Fourthly he says, For thy holy name's sake be thou my leader, Son of David, so that in my blindness you reach out to me the hand of mercy, and feed me with the milk of your grace. Have mercy on me, then, Son of David!

(A sermon on the Passion of Christ: Take the entrails of the fish.)

9. The Son of God and of David, the `Angel of Great Counsel', who is both the physician and the medicine of the human race, gives this counsel in the same Book of Tobias, saying:

Take the entrails of the fish, and remove its gall, and anoint thine eyes, [Tob 6.5,9]

and thus you will be able to regain your sight. Allegorically, the fish is Christ, who was roasted upon the grill of the Cross. Its gall is the bitterness of the Passion, whereby, if you anoint the eyes of your soul with it, you will receive your sight. The bitterness of the Lord's Passion drives out all the blindness of lust, and all the dung of carnal desire. So a certain wise man2 says, "The remembrance of the crucified crucifies all vices," and in the Book of Ruth we read:

Dip thy morsel in the vinegar. [Ruth 2.14]

This `morsel' is the momentary gratification of the wretched, which you should dip into the `vinegar', the bitterness of Jesus Christ's Passion.

The Lord tells you, then, what he told Abraham in this Sunday's reading:

Take thy son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust. [Gen 22.2]

Isaac means `laughter' or `rejoicing', and in the moral interpretation he represents our flesh, when it is smiled on by temporal success, and rejoices in the fulfilment of its desires. Solomon says of it:

Laughter (temporal things) I counted error

(because they cause one to wander from the way of truth);

and to mirth (the flesh) I said: Why art thou vainly deceived? [Eccles 2.2]

Take your son, then, your flesh which you love and which you nourish so carefully. Wretched man, you do not realise that the plague itself is not more harmful than this enemy of your own household! Solomon says:

He that nourisheth his servant delicately from his childhood,

afterwards he shall find him stubborn. [Prov 29.21]

Take him away, take him away! He is guilty of death! And Pilate (carnal affection) asks, What evil has he done? O what evils your laughter, your son, has done! He has despised God, scandalized his neighbour and brought death upon his own soul! And do you ask, "What evil has he done?" Take him, then, and go into the Land of Vision.

10. The Land of Vision was where Jerusalem stands, the very place spoken of in today's Gospel:

Jesus took the twelve disciples apart, and said to them: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem.

[Mt 20.17-18]

You too must take your son and go up with Jesus and his Apostles to Jerusalem, and there offer him upon the altar, by meditation upon the Lord's Passion, by the Cross of penitence, and by the sacrifice of your body. The word used is `holocaust', the burnt offering of an entire animal. You must offer your whole son, your whole body, to Jesus Christ; for he offered himself totally to God the Father, that he might destroy the whole body of sin [cf. Rom 6.6].

Note that our human body is made up of the four elements, fire, air, water and earth: fire is in the eyes, air in the mouth, water in the loins and earth in the hands and feet. In the sinner's body, since he is a slave to sin, fire flourishes in the eyes by curiosity, air in the mouth by talkativeness, water in the loins by lust and earth in the hands and feet by cruelty. The Son of God veiled his face (on which the angels long to gaze) to restrain the curiosity of our eyes. He was dumb before, not just his shearer but his murderer, and when he was ill-treated he did not open his mouth, so as to check your talkativeness. His side was opened by the lance, so that he might draw out of you the moisture of lust. His hands and feet were fastened with nails, to drive cruelty from your hands and feet. Take your son, then, your mirth, your flesh, and offer it completely as a holocaust, so that you may be wholly on fire with charity that covers a multitude of sins.

In today's Epistle the Apostle says:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity,

I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. [1Cor 13.1]

St Augustine3 says, "Charity is the name I give to that movement of the soul to delight in God for his own sake, and in self and neighbour for God's sake." He who lacks this, however many things he does which are in themselves good, he does them in vain. That is why the Apostle says, If I speak with the tongues of men, etc. Charity led the Son of God to the wood of the Cross. In the Canticles it says:

Love is as strong as death, [Cant 8.6]

and St Bernard4 comments on this passage, "O charity, how strong is your bond! Even the Lord was bound by you!" So take your son, and offer him on the altar of Jesus Christ's Passion, whose bitter gall will enlighten you, and you will hear the words, "Receive thy sight, thy faith hath saved thee;" that is, it has enlightened you.

11. Alternatively. Tobias had his sight restored by the fish's gall. Though the fish's flesh is tasty, its gall is bitter; and if the gall is sprinkled on the flesh, it all becomes bitter. The `flesh' of the fish represents the pleasure of lust; the gall hidden within it is the bitterness of eternal death. So Job, in a similar sense but in different words, says:

The root of junipers was their food. [Job 30.4]

The root of the juniper is sweet and edible, but its leaves are thorny. In the same way the pleasure of lust seems sweet here and now, but in the end it will produce the sharp thorn of everlasting death. Take the entrails of the fish: Consider the pleasures of sin, and how vile they are. Take out the gall: Pay attention to the punishment due to sin, how unending it is and how it can turn all the pleasure of your flesh to bitterness.

(A sermon for prelates of the Church: The lips of the priest.)

12. The third blind man is the `Angel of Laodicea', who was enlightened by eye-salve. Laodicea means `a people dear to the Lord', and it represents Holy Church, for love of which the Lord shed his blood, and from which he chose a royal priesthood, as once he did from the tribe of Judah. The `angel of Laodicea' is the bishop set over the Church. He is rightly called `Angel' because of the dignity of his office. The prophet Malachi says:

The lips of the priest shall keep knowledge,

and they shall seek the Law at his mouth;

because he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts. [Mal 2.7]

Five points are to be noticed in this text, all very necessary to the bishop or Church leader. They are: life, good repute, knowledge, an abundance of charity and the vestment of purity. The `lips' of a priest are two-fold: his life and his reputation. These preserve knowledge, so that he may keep safe what he knows and what he preaches. His good life benefits himself, and his reputation benefits his neighbour. From the two lips comes forth knowledge in fruitful preaching. If these three elements are eminent in the bishop, those subject to him will seek the Law of charity from his mouth. As the Apostle says;

bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the Law of Christ, [Gal 6.2]

which is charity. Christ bore the burden of our sins from charity alone, in his body on the Cross

[cf. 1Pt 2.24]. The Law is charity, and those under a superior will look for and expect it first in his actions, so that afterwards they may get comfort and profit from his words. St Luke tells us in Acts:

Jesus began to do and to teach, [Acts 1.1]

and in his Gospel:

He was powerful in deed and in word. [Lk 24.19]

13. There follows: Because he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts. See the robe of inner purity! St Jerome4 teaches that, "To live in the body, and yet to transcend the body, is the characteristic of heavenly nature, not human nature." The Lord rebukes the `Angel of Laodicea', the bishop of that Church, for lacking these five virtues:

Thou art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

You are wretched in your life, miserable in your reputation, blind in your knowledge, poor in charity and naked as regards the robe of purity. But the Lord knows how to cure a disease by its opposite. When he takes away, he also bestows. When he stings, he applies soothing ointment. So he counsels the blind bishop of Laodicea like this:

I counsel thee to buy of me gold, fire-tried, that thou mayest be made rich, and mayest be clothed in white garments; and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear. And anoint thy eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.

I counsel you to buy from me, not from the world, with the coin of good-will; to buy the gold of a virtuous life rather than the base metal of sin, gold fire-tried by charity against your need and poverty, proved by the bellows of good repute as against the stench of your bad name. Be clothed in white garments to take away the exposure of your foul deeds, and anoint your eyes with eye-salve as a remedy for the blindness of folly.

(A sermon on the Passion of Christ: He will be given up to the Gentiles, etc.)

14. This eye-salve, with which the soul's eyes are enlightened, is made up of five aspects of our Lord's Passion, like five herbs. They are mentioned in today's Gospel:

He will be given up to the Gentiles and mocked, beaten and spat upon; and after they have scourged him they will kill him.

Alas, alas! He who is the liberty of captives is made a prisoner. He who is the Glory of the angels is mocked. The God of all is scourged. The spotless mirror of the eternal Light is spat upon [cf. Wisd 7.26]. The Life of mortals is killed. What is there left for us poor wretches to do but go and die with him? [cf. Jn 11.16] Draw us forth from the mire, Lord Jesus, with the hook of your Cross; so that we may run, not to your sweetness [cf. Cant 1.3], but to the bitterness of your Passion. Prepare yourself an eye-salve, my soul, and give yourself to bitter weeping over the death of the Only-begotten [cf. Jer 6.26], over the Passion of the Crucified! The innocent Lord is betrayed by the disciple, mocked by Herod, scourged by the Governor, spat on by the Jewish mob and crucified by the soldiers. We will take these briefly in turn.

15. He was betrayed by his own disciple.

What will you give me, to betray him? [Mt 26.15]

The shame of it! To set a price on that which is beyond price! Alas! As the verse says, "He is shown forth; God is sold for a worthless coin." O Judas, will you sell God, the Son of God, as if he were a lowly slave, or a dead dog? And will you not even set the price yourself, but leave it to your customers? What will you give me? What can they give you? If they gave you Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria, could they buy Jesus? If they gave you the heavens and all the angels in them, earth and all mankind, the sea and all that is in it: could they pay a price worth the Son of God, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge lie hid? [Col 2.3] No! Never!

Can the Creator be bought or sold by a creature? And yet you say, What will you give me, to betray him to you? Tell me: how has he injured you, what harm has he done you, for you to say, I will betray him to you? What of the humility and voluntary poverty of the incomparable Son of God? What of his kindness and affection? What of his sweet preaching and working of miracles? His tears, so loving, shed over Jerusalem and for the death of Lazarus? What of the privilege that he chose you as an Apostle and familiar friend? Let the remembrance of these things, and others like them, soften your heart and inspire you to mercy, so that you do not say, I will betray him to you. Yet how many Judas Iscariots there are today, `hirelings' according to the meaning of his name, who sell the Truth for the reward of some small temporal advantage, who sell their neighbour with the kiss of flattery, and in the end hang themselves in the pit of eternal damnation.

16. He was mocked by Herod.

Herod with his army set him at nought and mocked him, putting on him a white garment.

[Lk 23.11]

The Son of God was spurned by Herod the Fox (Go, tell that fox, he said [Lk 13.32]) and his army- he to whom the hosts of angels cry Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, whom, as Daniel says, a thousand thousand serve, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him [cf. Dan 7.10]. He mocked him, putting on him a white garment. It is in fact the Father who clothes his Son Jesus Christ in the white garment of his flesh, clean from every spot of sin, taken from the immaculate Virgin. God the Father glorified him, but Herod despised him. The Father put upon him a white robe, but Herod seeing him thus clad mocked him. The shame of it! It is the same today. Herod means `glory skin-deep', an image of the hypocrite who takes pride in outward appearance, skin-deep; whereas the heavenly King's daughter (the soul) is all glorious within [cf. Ps 44.14]. He spurns and mocks Jesus. He spurns him when he preaches Christ crucified but does not bear his wounds in his own heart. He mocks him when he conceals himself under an outward glory so as to deceive the members of Christ. "The birdcatcher plays a sweet-sounding pipe, so as to deceive the bird."5 How many Herodians are taken in by outward glory, even today!

17. He was scourged by Pontius Pilate. John tells us that

Pontius Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. [Jn 19.1]

Isaiah says:

When the overflowing scourge shall pass,

you shall be trodden down by it.

Whensoever it shall pass through,

it shall take you away. [Is 28.18-19]

To prevent that scourge which is eternal death and the power of the devil from treading us down, the God of all, the Son of God, was bound to a pillar like a criminal and cruelly scourged so that his blood ran down on every side.

What meekness of divine love! What patience of the Father's kindness! How deep and unfathomable the secret of the eternal mind! You beheld your only-begotten Son, who is equal to you, Father, bound to a pillar like a criminal and torn with scourges as if he were a murderer. How could you restrain yourself? Holy Father, we thank you because by the bonds and wounds of your beloved Son we have been set free from the bonds of sin and the scourges of the devil. And yet, the shame of it! Once again Pontius Pilate scourges Jesus Christ. A weak man pretending to be strong, but full of empty words, he is like a man who makes a commitment with good intentions, but then returns to his vomit. With blasphemous mouth and cruel tongue he tears and scourges Christ in his members. With Satan he goes out from the presence of the Lord [cf Job 2.7], to run down his former community. He calls this one `proud', and that one `greedy', and to exculpate himself he passes judgement on others, covering up his own faults by blaming everyone else.

18. He was smeared with spittle by the Jews. According to Matthew,

They spat in his face and fell on him with blows, while others slapped him in the face.

[Mt 26.67]

Father, the head of your Son Jesus, before whom the archangels tremble, was struck with a reed; and the face on which the angels long to gaze was fouled with the spittle of the Jews. His face was slapped, his beard was pulled, he was struck with blows and his hair was torn. Yet you, O most Merciful, were silent and still. You would rather that one person, however dear to you, should be spat on and struck, than that your whole people should perish. Praise and glory be to you! From the spitting, the smiting and the striking that your Son suffered, you make for us an antidote to drive the poison from our souls.

Another lesson for us is this. The `face of Jesus Christ' may be understood as the leaders of the Church, who make God known to us and who represent him. Faithless Jews (in other words, perverse subordinates) spit on that face whenever they criticize or speak ill of those leaders. They disobey the Lord who has said:

Do not speak ill of the leader of your people. [cf. Acts 23.5; Ex 22.28]

19. He was crucified by the soldiers. St John says:

When the soldiers had crucified him, they took his garments. [Jn 19.23]

O all ye that pass by the way, stay your steps and attend,

and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow. [Lam 1.12]

His disciples fled, his friends and acquaintances drew back, Peter denied him, the Synagogue crowned him with thorns, the soldiers crucified him, the Jews mocked and blasphemed and gave him vinegar and gall to drink. What sorrow is like to my sorrow?

His hands are turned and as of gold, full of hyacinths, [Cant 5.14]

says the Bride in the Canticles, but now they are fixed with nails. His feet, which once he showed capable of walking on the sea, are fastened to the Cross with nails. His face, which shone like the sun in its splendour, has become pale as death. His beloved eyes, to which no creature is invisible, are closed in death. What sorrow is like to my sorrow? In all this, only the Father stands by to support; and into the Father's hands he commits his spirit, saying,

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. [Lk 23.46]

When he had said this he bowed his head-

having nowhere else to lay his head-

and gave up his spirit. [Jn 19.30]

But alas, alas! Once more the entire mystical Body of Christ, the Church, is crucified and killed! In that Body some form the head, others the hands or feet or trunk. Contemplatives are the head, active religious the hands, holy preachers the feet and all true Christians the trunk. Every day the soldiers (the demons) crucify that Body with their evil suggestions as with nails. Jews, pagans and heretics blaspheme and offer the vinegar and gall of sorrow and persecution to drink. This should not surprise us:

All who wish to live devotedly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. [2Tim 3.12]

How apt are the words, He was betrayed, mocked, scourged, spat on and crucified. From these five words, as from five most precious herbs, you must make yourself an eye-salve, you Angel of Laodicea. Anoint the eyes of your soul with it, and you will see the light and hear the words: Receive your sight, your faith has saved you.

Let us pray, then, dear brethren, and ask straightway for devotion of mind; so that our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave light to the man born blind, to Tobit and to the Angel of Laodicea, may be pleased to illuminate the eyes of our souls with the faith of his Incarnation and with the ointment of his Passion. Thus may we be enabled to see the Son of God himself, the Light of Light, in the splendour of the saints and the brightness of the angels. May he grant this, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.


1 OVID, Remedia amoris, 161-162

2 cf. AUGUSTINE, De doctrina christiana, III,10,16; PL 34.72

3 cf. BERNARD, Tractatus de charitate, 1,2,4; PL 184.585-586

4 Pseudo-JEROME, De Assumptione B.M.V. 5; PL 30.126

5 CATO, Disticha, I,27

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


Translated by Paul Spilsbury



(The fourth Gospel, for Lent: Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit, which is divided into an allegorical and a moral sermon.)


(In the allegorical sermon, first on the three-fold desert, and a sermon on the advent of the Lord: Send forth, O Lord, the lamb.)

1. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. [Mt 4.1]

We are told in the first book of Kings [1Kg(Sm) 24.1-2] that David dwelt in the wilderness of Engaddi. The name David means `strong of hand', and stands for Jesus Christ who, with his hands fastened to the Cross, did battle with the powers of the air. What wonderful strength, to overcome his enemy with bound hands! He dwelt in the wilderness of Engaddi, which means `the eye of temptation'. The eye of temptation is three-fold: first greed, of which Genesis says:

The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold; and she took the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband. [Gen 3.6]

Second, pride and vainglory, of which Job speaks, in regard to the devil:

He beholdeth every high thing.

He is king over the children of pride. [Job 41.25]

Third, avarice, of which Zechariah says:

This is their eye in all the earth. [Zech 5.6]

In this way Christ dwelt in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, during which time he sustained from the devil temptations to greed, to vainglory and to avarice.

2. So it says in today's Gospel, Jesus was led into the desert. This desert into which Jesus was led is also three-fold: first, the womb of the Virgin; second, as in today's Gospel; third, the gibbet of the Cross. Into the first he was led by compassion alone; into the second as an example; into the third by obedience. Of the first, Isaiah says:

Send forth, O Lord, the lamb, the ruler of the earth,

from Petra of the desert, to the mount of the daughter of Sion. [Is 16.1]

O Lord and Father, send forth a lamb and not a lion, to rule and not to lay waste the earth, from Petra the Rock of the desert (that is, from the Blessed Virgin). She is called a `rock' because of her firm intention of virginity, whereby she answered the angel,

How shall this be done, because I know not man. [Lk 1.34]

This means, `I am fully resolved not to know'. She is called `of the desert' because she was infertile, a virgin before, during and after giving birth. `Send forth,' I repeat, `to the mountain', to the excellence of the daughter of Sion, the Church which is the daughter of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Of the second desert Matthew says: Jesus was led into the desert.

Of the third, John the Baptist says in St John's Gospel:

I am a voice crying in the desert. [Jn 1.23]

John was a voice, because just as a voice is prior to a word, so he went before the Son of God. I am the voice of Christ, crying in the desert of the wood of the Cross:

Father, into thy hands, etc. [Lk 23.46]

In this desert all was thorny, and there was no human help.

(A sermon on the cursed three: Joab took three lances.)

3. Let us say, then: Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. If we ask by whom he was led, St Luke gives us the answer in the clearest way:

Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from the Jordan

and was led by the Spirit into the desert. [Lk 4.1]

He was led by the Spirit that filled him, of which Isaiah says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me. [Is 61.1]

He was led by the Spirit whereby he was anointed above his fellows [cf. Heb 1.10] into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. The Son of God, our Zerubbabel (`Master of Babylon'), came to restore a world that had been disordered by sin, came like a physician to heal the sick. It was therefore fitting for him to `cure opposites by opposites', as the saying is, just as by medical skill chills are cured by warmth, and fevers by cooling.

The sin of Adam was the destruction and the weakening of the human race. It consisted in three things: greed, vainglory and avarice. A poet has said, "Greed, vainglory and desire conquered old Adam." These three things are implicit in Genesis:

The serpent said to the woman... In what day soever you shall eat thereof,

your eyes shall be opened (greed);

and you shall be as gods (vainglory),

knowing good and evil (avarice). [Gen 3.4,5]

These were like three spears with which Adam and all his children were killed, just as in the second book of Kings,

Joab took three lances in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom. [2Kg(Sm) 18.14]

Joab means `enemy', so he well represents the devil, the enemy of the human race. With the hand of a lying promise he took three lances- greed, vainglory and avarice- and thrust them into man's heart, the very source of his warmth and life. As Solomon says, Life issueth from the heart [Prov 4.23]. In this way he extinguished the fire of divine love, and took life away altogether from the heart of Absalom (`the father's peace'), Adam who was placed in the garden of peace and delight to keep for ever the peace of the Father by obeying him. But after Adam refused to obey God the Father, he lost this peace and the devil thrust those three lances into his heart, and took away his life altogether.

4. The Son of God came at the acceptable time, and being obedient to God the Father he restored what was lost, curing opposites by opposites. Adam was placed in Paradise, and there, seeking pleasure, he fell. Jesus was led into the desert, and there, by constant fasting, he overcame the devil. Look at the concordance between the two temptations, in Genesis and in Matthew:

The serpent said... In what day soever you shall eat...

And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God,

command that these stones be made bread. [Mt 4.3]

This is the temptation of greed.

And: You shall be as gods...

Then the devil took him up into the holy city

and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple. [Mt 4.5]

This is the temptation of vainglory.

And: ...knowing good and evil.

Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain

and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.

And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. [Mt 4.8-9]

Being a liar, he told a lie; but this is the temptation of avarice. Wisdom however, which always acts wisely, overcame the three-fold temptation of the devil by the three-fold authority of Deuteronomy.

When the devil tempted him to greed, Jesus replied:

Man does not live on bread alone, [Mt 4.4; cf. Dt 8.3]

as if to say, just as the outward man lives on material bread, so the inward man lives on heavenly bread, the word of God. The Son is called the Word of God, the Wisdom

which proceedeth from the mouth of the Most High. [Ecclus 24.5]

Wisdom or sapience is a kind of savouring or taste, and so the bread of the soul is this taste for wisdom, this savouring of the good things of the Lord, to

taste and see how sweet is the Lord. [Ps 33.9]

The Book of Wisdom says of this bread:

Thou gavest them bread from heaven,

having in it all that is delicious and the sweetness of every taste.[Wisd 16.20]

This is what is meant by the words, But in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. Every word; because the word and wisdom of God has the sweetness of every taste, and its saviour renders tasteless the delights of greed. Because Adam refused this bread, he fell into the temptation of greed; so the words are appropriate, Not by bread alone, etc.

When the devil tempted him to vainglory, Jesus answered:

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. [Mt 4.7; cf. Dt 6.16]

Jesus Christ is Lord in creation and God in eternity. The devil tempted him when he urged him, who was the creator of the temple, to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple; and promised the help of the angels to the God of all the heavenly powers! Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Adam too tempted the Lord God, when he disobeyed the command of his Lord and God, and too easily believed the false promise, You will be as gods. What vainglory, to think that one could become God! What a wretched man! Because of your stupidity in setting yourself above your proper state, you fell below it in miserable ruin. That is why you should not tempt the Lord your God!

When the devil tempted Jesus to avarice, he replied:

Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and serve him alone. [Mt 4.10; cf. Dt 6.13; 10.20]

All those who love money or worldly glory are bowing down to worship the devil. For our sakes, Jesus entered the womb of the Virgin and bore the shame of the Cross. Taught by his example, let us go into the desert of penitence. With his help let us resist the wind of vainglory and the fire of avarice. Let us adore him whom the archangels adore. Let us serve him whom the angels serve, who is blessed, glorious and to be praised, most high for ever and ever. And let every creature say: Amen!


(In the moral sermon, first a sermon for enclosed religious: There were given to the woman two wings; and on the nature of the eagle and the property of the hawk.)

1. Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit. [Mt 4.1]

We read in the Apocalypse:

And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle,

that she might fly into the desert. [Apoc 12.14]

The woman represents the penitent soul, of which the Lord says in John:

A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow, [Jn 16.21]

that is, the soul, confessing sin conceived in pleasure, has sorrow- and so she should! To this woman are given the two wings of an eagle. The eagle is noted for its sharp sight and sharp beak, and it represents the just man. The eagle has the keenest vision, and when with age its beak grows blunt it sharpens it on a stone and so renews it. In like manner the just man, by keenness of inward contemplation, is able to gaze on the brightness of the true sun; and when his `beak'- the affection of his mind- has been blunted by sin, he straightway resorts to the stone of confession to sharpen it, and so renews his youth in grace. To this effect the Psalmist says:

Thy youth shall be renewed like the eagles. [Ps 102.5]

This eagle has two wings, love and the fear of God, concerning which the Lord said to Job:

Doth the hawk wax feathered by wisdom,

spreading his wings to the south? [Job 39.26]

The eagle and the hawk in this passage stand for the just man. Take note of two characteristics of the hawk: it catches its prey in its claws, and only catches a bird in flight. Similarly the just man should take hold with the claws of his affection, but only of the good that `flies', not caring for what is on the earth! By God's wisdom he preens his feathers, the pure thoughts of the just man which, as he savours God's wisdom, grow in an orderly way in his mind. When you savour the things of God you as it were `preen your feathers', putting forth good thoughts as you enjoy the sweetness of that wisdom. The hawk spreads his wings (love and divine fear) to the south, that is to Jesus Christ who comes from the south [cf. Hab 3.3] to send forth the heat that nourishes, and to pour into them the grace that keeps them. These two wings are given to the woman, the penitent soul, so that she may be lifted up by them from earthly things, and fly into the desert of penitence, the desert spoken of in this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus was led into the desert.

2. This Sunday the Introit of the Mass is

He shall call upon me and I will hear him, [Ps 90.15-16]

and the Epistle is taken from St Paul to the Corinthians,

We beseech you, do not receive the grace of God in vain, [2Cor 6.1-10]

because "Days of penitence have come upon us, to redeem sins and save souls."1 So for God's praise and the benefit of our souls, we shall treat of penitence, which consists in three things: contrition of heart, confession of the lips and satisfaction in deed; and their three opposites, greed, vainglory and avarice. These six things are to be found in today's Gospel.

(A sermon on contrition of heart: With a vehement wind; and: A sacrifice to God.)

3. Let us say, then: Jesus was led into the desert.

Jesus said:

I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also. [Jn 13.15]

What did Jesus do? He was led into the desert by the Spirit. I pray you, then, who believe in Jesus and hope for salvation, to be led by the spirit of contrition into the desert of confession, so that you may perfectly fulfil the forty days of satisfaction. Contrition of heart, be it noted, may be called a spirit, wind or breath. So David says,

With a vehement wind thou shalt break in pieces the ships of Tharsis. [Ps 47.8]

Tharsis is `the exploration of joy'; and the `ships of Tharsis' are minds of worldly folk who are blown along through the seas of this world, with the sail of carnal desire and the wind of vainglory, to explore the joy of worldly prosperity. With the strong wind of contrition the Lord breaks the ships of Tharsis, these worldly minds, so that when they are broken they will look for true joy, not that which is empty. The spirit of contrition is called `vehement' for two reasons: it is a `driving' wind that drives the mind to higher things, and which drives away eternal woe. Genesis says of it:

He breathed into his face the breath of life. [Gen 2.7]

The Lord breathes the breath of life, contrition of heart, into the face of the soul when he impresses upon it his own image and likeness, which has been soiled by sin, and renews it.

4. The Psalmist shows what contrition should be like when he says:

A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit;

a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. [Ps 50.19]

In this verse there are four things to note: compunction of the spirit afflicted for its sins; the reconciliation of the sinner; the universal contrition of all sinners; the continued humbling of the contrite sinner. So he says that the spirit of a penitent which is afflicted and pricked for sins by so many trials is a sacrifice to God. It makes peace between God and that sinner, and reconciles the sinner to God; and because sorrow for sin should be all-embracing, the words a contrite heart are added.

The word used means, literally, not just `bruised' but `broken'. Both these words should be true of the sinner. His heart should be bruised by the hammer of contrition and split open by the sword of sorrow, divided into enough pieces to cover each and every mortal sin, weeping and mourning over them. The sinner should grieve over one mortal sin he has committed, more than for the loss of the whole world and everything in it if he were their lord. By mortal sin he has lost the Son of God, who is mightier, dearer and more precious than all creatures; so he should have a contrite heart, broken altogether, to be sorry for every single thing he has done, neglected or forgotten.

The completion of every good action is humility, so in the fourth and last place we hear that God will not despise a humbled heart. Indeed, as Isaiah says:

The High and the Eminent that inhabiteth eternity...

dwelleth with a contrite and humble spirit,

to revive the spirit of the humble

and to revive the heart of the contrite. [Is 57.16]

How great is the kindness of God! How great is the dignity of the penitent! He who lives in eternity dwells in the heart of the humble and in the soul of the penitent! It is the mark of a truly contrite heart that it humbles itself in everything, reckoning itself no more than a dead dog and a mere flea [cf. 1Kg(Sm) 24.15].

(A sermon for priests, and how they should conceal confession: "Confession should be uninhabitable"; and: Take heed you go not up into the mount.)

5. So by this spirit of contrition the penitent is led into the desert of confession; and it is well called a desert for three reasons. A desert is a land which is uninhabitable, which is full of wild beasts, and which is horrible and fearful. This in literal truth was the kind of desert in which Jesus Christ lived for forty days and forty nights. In the same way, confession should be `uninhabited', in the sense that it should be private and secret, concealed from anyone else's knowledge, kept in the memory of the confessor alone under an inviolable seal, and hidden from human awareness. Even if every person in the world knew the sin of the sinner confessing to you, nonetheless you should conceal it and lock it away with the key of everlasting silence.

Truly they are the children of the devil, accursed by the living and true God, cast out from the Church Triumphant and excommunicate from the Church Militant, to be deposed from every office and benefice, who (not by word, which would be worse than murder) even by sign or in any way at all, hidden or open, whether to blame or even to praise, reveal or manifest a confession. I dare to say that whoever reveals a confession sins more gravely than the traitor Judas, who sold Jesus Christ the Son of God to the Jews. I make my confession to a man, but not simply as to a man, but as to God. The Lord says in Isaiah:

My secret to myself! My secret to myself! [Is 24.16]

and shall not man, born of earth, seal up the secret of confession in the depths of his heart?

6. So it is appropriate that confession should be called an uninhabited and inaccessible land, because the secret of confession should be disclosed to nobody. The Lord warns and commands in Exodus:

Take heed you go not up into the mount, and that ye touch not the borders thereof. Everyone that toucheth the mount dying he shall die. No hands shall touch him, but he shall be stoned to death, or shall be shot through with arrows. Whether it be a beast or a man, he shall not live. [Ex 19.12-13]

Mount Sinai (`measure') here stands for confession, which is called a `mount' because of its excellence, namely the remission of sin. What could be more excellent or lofty than the remission of sin? And it is called `measure' because of the correspondence between that confession and the guilt of sin. The sinner should measure out his confession so that it corresponds exactly to his guilt, neither leaving anything out for shame or fear, nor adding anything through imagined humility, more than is strictly true. It is not right to say what is untrue, for humility's sake.

Beware then, you confessors, you priests, lest you go up onto that mountain! To `go up the mountain' would be to disclose the secret of confession. You are bidden not merely not to go up, but not even to touch the borders. The borders of the mountain are the circumstances of confession, which no-one should touch by word, sign, or in any way at all. For shame! There are those who are afraid to go up the mountain, but are not afraid to touch its borders by disclosing the circumstances of sin by word or sign. Let these unhappy men hear their death sentence: Everyone that toucheth the mountain, dying he shall die, says the Lord. And by what death, Lord? The hand of the secular power shall not touch them, to hang them like a thief or a murderer. Maybe that would be a lesser punishment. They will be stoned with the stones of the harshest excommunication, and shot through with the arrows of eternal damnation. Whether he be a `beast' (a simple priest) or a `man' (an educated and knowledgeable priest) he shall in no wise live. Another interpretation would be, whether a `beast' (a layman or lesser cleric to whom one may confess in case of necessity) or a `man' (a priest of the Church), he shall not live for evermore because he has gone onto the mountain or touched its borders. So it is appropriate to call confession an uninhabited and inaccessible land!

(A sermon on the seven vices, and the properties of the ostrich, the ass and the hedgehog: It shall be a habitation of dragons.)

7. Again, confession may be called a `desert' inasmuch as it is full of wild beasts. What these beasts are, with which confession should abound, we shall see. These beasts are mortal sins, which ravage and wound the soul. Isaiah, speaking of faithless Judah (the sinful soul) says:

It shall be the habitation of dragons

and the pasture of ostriches.

And demons and monsters shall meet,

and the hairy ones shall cry out to one another.

There hath the lamia lain down and found rest for herself.

There hath the ericius had its hole and brought up its young ones,

and hath dug round about and cherished them in the shadow thereof. [Is 34.13-15]

In this text seven kinds of beast are mentioned: the dragon, the ostrich, the "monster" (a hybrid of ass and ox), the hairy one, the lamia and the ericius. By these beasts we are to understand seven kinds of sin, which should all and individually be fully disclosed in confession, just as they were committed by the consent of the mind and the effect of the deed. This is the meaning of, It shall be the habitation of dragons, etc.

The `dragon' is the poisonous malice of hatred and detraction;

The `ostrich' is the deceitfulness of hypocrisy;

the `ass' is lust;

the `ox' is pride;

the `hairy beast' is avarice and usury;

the `lamia' is heresy and lack of faith;

the `ericius' (hedgehog) is the crafty excusing of the sinner.

8. Let us say, then: It shall be the habitation of dragons.

The mind or conscience of the sinner is the habitation of dragons by the poison of hatred and detraction. It says in the Song of Moses:

Their wine is the gall of dragons, and the venom of asps, which is incurable. [Dt 32.33]

The hate and detraction of sinners is like a wine that inebriates the mind, and intoxicates those who listen to it. It is the gall of dragons and the incurable venom of asps. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes,

If a serpent bite in silence, he is nothing better that backbiteth in secret. [Eccles 10.11]

It is incurable because, as Ecclesiasticus says,

The stroke of a whip maketh a blue mark;

but the stroke of the tongue will break the bones. [Ecclus 28.21]

The mark of a whip is only a bruise on the outside of the body, but the wound made by a critical tongue breaks the bones of inner virtue- so, yes, it is the habitation of dragons.

9. There follows: and the pasture of ostriches.

The ostrich has wings, but it cannot fly because of the size of its body. Likewise, the hypocrite is weighed down by love of earthly things, yet pretends to be a hawk who, with wings of false religion, takes flight in contemplation. Job says:

The wing of the ostrich is like the wing of the heron and of the hawk. [Job 39.13]

The `pasture of ostriches' is in the mind of a false religious; and `pasture' is a most apt word, because the hypocrite who is praised for his hawk-like wings feeds on this praise. He behaves like a peacock which, when children praise it, shows off the glory of its plumage, making a great wheel of its tail. But when it turns round, it shows the unsightliness of its backside! Just so the hypocrite, when he is praised, shows off the feathers of his apparent holiness, and makes a `wheel' of his devout behaviour. He says, "I have done this, and that; I have begun, and carried through to completion." And as he turns himself about he only shows off his baseness. The fool causes disgust by the very things he tries to please with.

10. And demons and monsters shall meet.

The word used, `onocentaur', comes from the Greek for `ass' and `ox'. The `ass' stands for the lustful person. It is stupid, lazy and timid. In the same way the lustful person is stupid, having lost the true wisdom which fills the wise and sober man, and which drives out the lust of the flesh which beguiles a man and makes him dull-witted. He is also lazy, for, as the Poet2 says:

"If you ask why Aegisthus became an adulterer,

the reason is clear: he had nothing better to do!"

He is also timid, like the ass as described in Natural History: An animal which has a large heart is timid, while that which has a smaller one is brave. What happens is this: when such an animal is afraid, the heat of the heart is too little to fill it. A little heat in a large heart grows weaker, and the blood becomes cooler. Hares, deer, asses and mice have large hearts. Just as a little heat will warm a large house less than a small one, so is the heat in these. The lustful man has a large heart for thinking about and committing wicked and lustful actions, but he has little or no heat from the love of the Holy Spirit. That is why he is timid and unstable, and inconstant in all his ways [cf. Jas 1.8].

The `bull' means the proud man. The Lord complains in the Psalm:

Fat bulls have surrounded me. [Ps 21.13]

`Fat bulls' are proud men in their worldly wealth. They have surrounded me (says our Lord) like the Jews who repeatedly called for me to be crucified. At the hour of death the demons meet the `onocentaur', the monster combining lust and pride, so as to receive such sinners as they leave this world, and drag them away with them to eternal punishment. So it is that those who incited the sin now inflict the torment that punishes it.

11. There follows: and the hairy ones cry one to another.

The `hairy ones' are the avaricious and usurious. Their `pelt' is pelf! Avarice cries out for usury, and usury for avarice. The one invites the other. For shame! The cry of these `hairy ones' has already filled the whole world. Hairy Esau is their model. His name means `oak'. The avaricious and usurious are `hairy' in taking, but `oakish' (hard and inflexible) in paying back.

12. There hath the lamia lain down and found rest for herself.

The `lamia' was supposed to be a beast with a human face, but the rear part of an animal. It represents heretics who, in order more easily to deceive, make a pretence of a human appearance and smooth words. Jeremiah says of them, in Lamentations:

Lamias have exposed their breast and suckled their young. [Lam 4.3]

Heretics `expose their breast' when they promote their sect; and they `suckle their young' when they foster the faithlessness of those who believe them. The word used means `whelps' rather than `children', because like uneducated folk, cobblers and tanners, they know nothing except to cry out against the Church, and to curse Catholics who belong to it.

13. There follows: There the ericius has its hole.

The hedgehog is all prickly, and if anyone tries to catch it, it rolls itself up into a ball in the hand of the one holding it. It has its head and mouth underneath, and five teeth in its mouth. The hedgehog is the obstinate sinner, clad all around with the spines of sin. If you try to rebuke him for the sins he has committed, immediately he gets prickly and hides his guilt with excuses. His head and mouth (that is, his mind and speech) are underneath. While excusing the wicked things he has done, the sinner is just turning his mind and speech to earthly things below. The five teeth in his mouth are the five kinds of excuse which a stubborn man uses. When he is rebuked, he blames ignorance, bad luck, the devil's tempting, the weakness of the flesh or the provocation of other people. In this way, as Isaiah says, he `nourishes his young', the impulses of his mind, and digs round them and hides them in the shadow of excuses.

(A sermon for those confessing, how they should confess their sins and the circumstances of them: Take a harp.)

14. These seven beasts (their number includes all kinds of sins) should appear abundantly and fully in the desert of our confession, so that nothing is hidden from the priest, or glossed over, but everything is confessed to the last detail and circumstance. As the Lord says through Isaiah:

After seventy years there shall be unto Tyre as the song of a harlot.

Take a harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten:

sing well, sing many a song, that thou mayst be remembered. [Is 23.15-16]

The seventy-fold and seven-fold number here stands for all sins universally. So it is said that the Lord cast out seven demons from Magdalene, that is, all vices. So by the seventy years and seven beasts we understand all vices. And so Isaiah says, After seventy years, that is, after committing all crimes, unto Tyre (meaning `a narrow place', the soul hemmed in by sins) there shall be a song, the confession of sins. After committing all crimes, there is no remedy left for the unhappy soul but the confession of sins which is `the second plank after shipwreck'. The soul is addressed as `harlot' because she has put away her true spouse, Jesus Christ, and clung to the adulterous devil; and unless she is converted she will be given to eternal oblivion. So, Take a harp! Note that the word `take' implies a prompt will to confess, not forced or extorted; while the `harp' is the confession of every sin and its circumstances. Take a harp, then, to confess voluntarily;

Confess whilst thou art alive and in health. [Ecclus 17.27]

15. Just as the strings are drawn out in a harp, so the circumstances of sin must be drawn out in confession- who, what, where, with whose help, how often, why, how and when. A confessor should distinguish all these, and whether dealing with a man or a woman should enquire discreetly and carefully.

`Who?': whether married or single, lay-person or cleric, rich or poor, whether occupying any office or dignity, whether free or slave, of what religious order or congregation.

`What?': how serious the sin, and of what kind. For instance, [if sexual sin,] was it a case of simple fornication between two unmarried people? Was the woman a hired prostitute? Was it adultery? Was it incest, between those related by blood or marriage? If a man seduces a virgin, he sins particularly grievously, because he opens the door of sin for her, and so becomes liable to share the guilt of any sins she commits afterwards (unless he provides properly for her in a place where she can do penance, or unless he arranges a marriage for her, if he can.) Was it a sin against nature, which includes every case where seed is spilt other than in a woman's vagina. These things should only be asked about very cautiously and indirectly. Or was it a case of murder? Was this by thought, word or actual deed? Was it a sacrilege, a robbery or theft? From whom? And was it openly or in secret? Was it usury? In what way? "To take any return over and above the principal is called usury." Was it perjury? False witness? How was it done? Was it pride? There are three sorts: refusal of obedience to a superior, refusal to tolerate an equal, and contempt for an inferior. All this we must confess.

`Where?': in a church (consecrated or not), or near a church; in a cemetery where the faithful are buried; or in any place dedicated to prayer- was sin committed here, or something unlawful spoken of?

`With whose help?': with whose help or advice did he sin, or cause others to sin? With a few companions, or many? Were they aware of the sin? Did he commit sin because money was offered or taken?

`How often?': He should confess how many times he sinned (at least approximately); frequently or infrequently; whether he was in a state of sin a long or a short time; whether he often sinned again after confession.

`Why?': did he give mental consent or do wrong even before temptation? Did he in any way do violence to nature, to accomplish the sin, and thus offend in the most serious way?

`How?': was the sin committed in an unusual or unbecoming way (by unlawful touching, for instance) and the like?

`When?': in a time of fasting, or on a saint's day; was the offence committed at a time he should have been in church? How old was he when he committed this or that sin?

All these circumstances, and similar ones, can add greatly to the seriousness of sin, and hurt the soul of the sinner. They should all be laid bare in confession. These are the strings, drawn out in the harp of confession, of which we are bidden, Take a harp.

16. There follows: Go about the city. The city is human life, which he must `go about' in terms of time and age, sin and manner of sin, place and the persons with whom he consorted, and whom by his bad example, by word or deed, he caused to sin; or whom, if they were sinning, he failed to draw back from sin. As we have said, all these things must be confessed nakedly and openly, after the manner of the Psalmist, who said:

I have gone around and sacrificed in his tabernacle the sacrifice of vociferation. [Ps 26.6]

I have gone round my whole life, like a good soldier who goes round his camp, lest there be any gap whereby enemies may get in. And I have sacrificed in his tabernacle, the Church, before his priest, the sacrifice of vociferation (confession) which is aptly so-called because the sinner should confess clearly and distinctly, not with lowered voice and mumbling. Well-expressed, Go about the city!

17. There follows: Sing well, accusing yourself and not the devil, fate or someone else. Sing well, confessing all your sins to a single priest, not sharing them out among several. Maybe you would like my advice about the following case: you say, "I made a general confession of all my sins to one priest, but later I fell again into mortal sin. Must I confess all my sins again?" My advice, sound, salutary and good for your soul, is this: As often as you go to a new confessor, confess as if you had never confessed before. But if you go to someone who knows your conscience, and to whom you have made a general confession, you need only mention the sins you have committed since, or which you had forgotten. Sing well, then, sing many a song, confessing your sins again and again. Why? So that you may be remembered before God and his angels, and so that he may forgive your sins, pour his grace into you and confer eternal glory on you.

(A sermon on confession: How terrible is this place.)

18. Here, then, are the beasts with which the desert of your confession should abound. Sins and their circumstances should appear naked and clear in confession, and thus the desert of confession will be horrible and fearful. To whom? To the unclean spirits! We read in Genesis:

How terrible is this place! This is no other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. [Gen 28.17]

The place of confession, and indeed confession itself, is terrible to the unclean spirits. Job says:

As overflowing waters, so is my roaring. [Job 3.24]

When the lion roars, all other beasts stand still. Overflowing waters uproot whatever stands in their path. The roar of the lion is the confession of the penitent, of whom the Psalmist says:

I roared with the groaning of my heart, [Ps 37.9]

because from the groaning of the heart should go forth the roaring of confession. When the evil spirits hear it, they are terrified and do not dare to tempt. The overflowing waters are the tears of the contrite, which totally dissolve and uproot whatever the evil spirits are plotting against these penitent tears.

Confession is also called `the house of God', on account of the reconciliation of the sinner. In confession, the sinner is reconciled to God, like a son to his father when he is received back into his father's house. You can read in Luke how when the elder brother drew near to the house, in which the penitent son was feasting with his father, he heard music and song. Note the three things that were in the house: feasting, music and song. Just so there should be three things in the house of confession, where the sinner is received when he returns from the region of deceit: the feasting of contrition, the music of confession and the song of amendment. Just as you accuse yourself of your sins, so also you should take care to amend yourself. Hear the sweet music:

I acknowledge my iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. [Ps 50.5]

Hear the choir singing in response,

I am ready for scourges, and my sorrow is continually before me. [Ps 37.18]

How many people make the sweet music of confession, yet do nothing to amend themselves!

19. Alternatively: if the music of weeping and bitter compunction resounds in the house of confession, the choir of divine mercy will respond immediately, forgiving the sin. This is the promise made in the Introit of today's Mass:

He shall cry to me and I will hear him:

I am with him in tribulation:

I will deliver him, and I will glorify him.

I will fill him with length of days:

and I will shew him my salvation. [Ps 90.15-16]

Four things are promised to the penitent:

He shall cry to me, that I may forgive his sin; and I will hear him and will pour my grace on him;

I will deliver him from the four things mentioned in this Sunday's Tract:

The terror of the night;

the arrow that flieth in the day;

the business that walketh about in the dark;

invasion, or the noon-day devil. [Ps 90.5-6]

The terror of the night is the hidden temptation of the devil; the flying arrow is his open assault; the business walking in darkness is the falseness of hypocrites; and the noon-day devil is the burning lust of the flesh. From all these the Lord will deliver the true penitent. I will glorify him in the day of judgement with the glory of a two-fold robe.I will fill him with length of days in the endlessness of eternal life.

Confession is also called `the gate of heaven'. Truly, truly it is the gate of heaven! Truly it is the gate of paradise! Through it, as through a gate, the penitent is led in to kiss the feet of divine mercy; to be raised up to kiss the hands of heavenly grace; and to be accepted with the kiss on the mouth of fatherly reconciliation. O house of God! O gate of heaven! O confession of sin! Blessed is he who dwells in you! Blessed is he who enters by you! Blessed is he who humbles himself in you! My beloved brothers, be humbled and enter by the gate of confession. As you have been taught, confess your sins and their circumstances, because now is the acceptable time for confession, now is the day of salvation for making amends [cf. 2Cor 6.2]. This is what is meant by, When he had fasted forty days and forty nights.

(A sermon on the forty-day fast: And when he had fasted forty days; and: The scouts sent by Moses.)

20. The forty-day fast of Jesus Christ teaches us how we may make satisfaction for our sins, and how we may work so as not to receive the grace of God in vain. As the Apostle says in today's Epistle:

We exhort you that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For he (i.e. the Lord, in Isaiah) saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee and in the day of salvation I have helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. [2Cor 6.1-2; Is 49.8]

He receives the grace of God in vain, who does not live according to the grace he has been given. He receives the grace of God in vain, who imagines that the grace freely given him is due to his own merits; he receives in vain, who after confessing his guilt in the acceptable time, the day of salvation, refuses to do penance for his sins.

Behold, then: now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation given us to promote our salvation. St Bernard3 says, "No time is more precious; but, alas, today nothing is valued less! The days of salvation pass by, and no-one thinks about it, no-one even makes the excuse that the day for him to perish is never going to come. Like the hair of your head, not a moment of time is going to perish." And Seneca4 says, "Even if there were much time to spare, it should still be used carefully; what is to be done, then, in such pressing danger?" And Ecclesiasticus: Son, observe the time [Ecclus 4.23] as if it were sacred.

Let us do penance in these holy forty days. The number forty is the product of four and ten. God the Creator of all created body and soul, and bestowed a four and a ten on each. The body is made up of the four elements, and is ruled and controlled by ten senses, as though by ten princes, namely: two eyes, two ears, smell, taste, two hands and two feet. God gave the soul four principal virtues- prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance- and the ten Commandments. These are:

Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is One;

Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain;

Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. [Dt 6.4; Ex 20.7,8]

These three, which concern the love of God, were written on the first tablet. The other seven, which concern the love of neighbour, were on the second:

Honour thy father and thy mother;

Thou shalt not kill;

Thou shalt not commit adultery;

Thou shalt not steal;

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour;

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours house;

Thou shalt not desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass,

nor anything that is his. [Ex 20.12-17]

Because every day we sin against the four virtues and the ten commandments, in this mortal body made up of the four elements and ruled by ten senses, we should make satisfaction to the Lord by the fast of forty days.

21. As to how this is to be done, we are told in the Book of Numbers that the spies sent out by Moses and the children of Israel went about the Land of Canaan in forty days. `Canaan' means `business', or `humble'. The Land of Canaan is our body, in which we do business, exchanging by a happy trade earthly things for eternal, and transitory things for what is lasting, and always in humility of heart. Regarding this business, Proverbs says of the valiant woman:

She hath tasted and seen that her traffic is good. [Prov 31.18]

It says two things: that she tastes and that she sees. The `valiant woman', the soul, `tastes' when with the healthy palate of the mind she experiences the sweetness of heavenly glory, for love of which she despises the kingdom of the world and all worldly adornments. So, as time goes by, with the eye of enlightened reason she may see and understand that `her traffic is good', namely, "To sell all she has and to give to the poor, and naked to follow the naked Jesus Christ"5 . This is what the Book of Job says:

Skin for skin, and all that a man hath he will give for his life. [Job 2.4]

A man who tastes and sees how sweet the Lord is will give and exchange the skin of worldly pomp for the skin of heavenly glory; or he will give his skin (this material and mortal body) to the executioner and torturer, and will expose it to death and the sword for the glorious skin of immortal glory. Our body is well-called `skin'. The more a skin or hide is washed, the more discoloured it gets. So our body, the more it is delicately nourished and favoured with pleasures, the more quickly it grows old and wrinkled. A man will give not only his skin, but everything he has, to save his life. Just so the Apostles, who left skin and everything, were found fit to hear the words;

You will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. [Mt 19.28]

(A sermon on the circumstances of sin to be confessed and put away: Josue took Maceda.)

22. We, like true and vigorous explorers, should in these forty days go about the whole region of our body, carefully seeking out whatever sins we have committed by sight, hearing, taste, smell or touch; confessing our sins and their circumstances so that no remnants remain, following the example of Joshua who (as his Book tells),

Joshua took Maceda and destroyed it, with the edge of the sword; and killed the king and all the inhabitants thereof. He left not in it the least remains. [Jos 10.28]

Maceda means `first', or `scorching'. It stands for sin, from which man is first scorched in Baptism. This sin is taken captive in penance. The `king' of the city is evil will, which is struck by the edge of the `sword' (oral confession). The `inhabitants' thereof are the five senses which obey the will, which must similarly be killed by penance and recalled from sin. The `remains' are the remembrances of sin and the inclination to pleasure, and these are not to be spared either.

In the same passage,

Joshua conquered all the country of the hills and of the south of the plain, and of Asedoth, with their kings. He left not any remains therein, but slew all that breathed. [Jos 10.40]

The `hill country' is pride; the `south' is cupidity; the `plain', lust (in it the lustful horse wanders unbridled as through fields). Asedoth is `things to be made, of the people': it stands for every unclean imagination which feeds the fire of sin. All these we must lay waste in confession, with the intention of never sinning again; and for these we must make suitable satisfaction so that when the body has elevated itself we must humble it the more in confession; and to the extent that it took pleasure, the more we must give it pain- bread and water, the discipline, staying awake. Then like the daughter of Jephthah it will hear these words:

Thou hast deceived me, my daughter

(my flesh, with the pleasures of greed and lust),

and thou thyself are now deceived, [cf. Jg 11.35]

that is, afflicted with disciplines, vigils and fasts.

Now we have gone over these things concerning the spirit of contrition, the desert of confession, and the forty days of satisfaction (on which is based the remission of all sins, the infusion of grace, and the reward of eternal life), we must proceed to describe their opposites: greed, vainglory and lust.

(A sermon on the cursed three, wherein the devil tempts us: Let us put on the new man.)

23. There follows: And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, etc. [Mt 4.3]

The devil always acts according to the same manner. In the same way that he tempted Adam in Paradise, he tempted Christ in the desert, and he tempts every christian in this world. First he tempted Adam by greed, vainglory and avarice, and overcame him by this temptation. Then he tempted Christ, the second Adam, in the same way; but in tempting he himself was overcome, because it was not just a man, but God, whom he was tempting. We share in both Adams, the first by the flesh and the second by the spirit. We must put off the old man with his actions (greed, vainglory and avarice) and put on the new man by confession and renewal, so as to restrain the unbridled heat of greed by fasting, to repress the uprising of vainglory by humble confession, and tread down the thick mud of avarice by contrition of heart. Blessed are the poor in spirit, says the Lord, meaning the humble and contrite of heart, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [Mt 5.3].

24. Just as the devil tempted the Lord in the desert by greed, in the temple by vainglory and on the mountain by avarice; so he tempts us every day: by greed in the desert of fasting, by vainglory in the temple of prayer and Office, and by multiple avarice on the mount of dignity. While we fast, he tempts us by greed, wherein (as the verse goes6 ) we may sin in five ways: "Hastily, sumptuously, excessively, eagerly, carefully."

HASTILY, before the proper time;

SUMPTUOUSLY, when taste is excited though appetite is depressed, with all kinds of sauces, decorations and fancy foods.

EXCESSIVELY, when we take more food than the body needs. Gluttons say, "We are bound to fast, so let us eat at one meal enough to make up for breakfast and supper." They are like locusts who, once they settle on a tree, do not leave it until they have eaten everything. The locust is all mouth, the image of a glutton who consists entirely of a greedy belly. They lay siege to their plate as to a castle, not abandoning it until they have consumed the lot. Their belly goes on rumbling until the plate is clean!

EAGERLY, rushing upon the food and, like a man about to do battle against an army, stretching out their arms, extending their hands, and just scoffing! At the table, they behave like the proverbial dog, who wants no companion in the kitchen.

CAREFULLY, demanding dainty foods that must be prepared, Oh! so precisely. Remember the sons of Eli in I Kings, who would not take cooked meat, only raw, so as to prepare it with greater care and delicacy [cf. 1Kg(Sm) 2.15].

25. The devil tempts us in the temple of vainglory. While we are at prayer, at Office or in preaching, we are assailed by the lances of vainglory from the devil. Alas! How often we are wounded! There are those who kneel and sigh as they pray, wanting to be noticed. There are others who, when they sing in choir, strain their voices and warble in their throats, so as to be heard. Others again, when they preach, thunder with their voices, quote learned authors, applying them according to their own ideas, and go round in circles to be praised. Believe me, all these hirelings have received their reward already. Moses says in Leviticus:

Do not make your daughter a prostitute. [Lev 19.29]

My work is my `daughter', and I prostitute it and put it in a brothel when I sell it for the coin of vainglory. In Matthew, the Lord gives this advice:

But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber and, having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret. [Mt 6.6]

When you want to pray or do some good deed (which is to pray without ceasing [cf. 1Thess 5.17], enter into the secret chamber of your heart and close the door of your five senses, so as not to try to be seen, heard or praised. Luke says that Zacharias went into the Temple of the Lord at the hour of incense. At the time of prayer, which goes up like incense in the sight of the Lord, you must enter the temple of your heart and so pray to your Father; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you [cf. Lk 1.9].

26. On the mountain of transitory dignity we are tempted with the sin of multiple avarice. Avarice may be not only for money, but for eminence. The more misers have, the more they want; and

when promoted, the higher they are the higher they want to go. So a greater fall ruins them, because "The winds blow hardest in the highest places"7 ; and it was on the `high places' that sacrifice was made to idols [cf. 1Kg 3.2; 22.44; 2Kg 12.3; 14.4; 15.35; 2Chr 20.33]. Solomon says of these two,

Fire never says Enough. [Prov 30.16]

`Fire' (avarice for money or position) never says "Enough!", but "Give, give!" [cf. Prov 30.17]. O Lord Jesus, take away these two `Gives' from the prelates of your Church, take them away! >From your inheritance- which you gained by blows, spitting, scourging, the cross, nails, vinegar, gall and spear- they take pleasure and glory on the mountain of ecclesiastical dignity.

Let us, then- who take the name Christian from Christ- with singlehearted devotion pray Jesus Christ the Son of God, and earnestly beg him to grant us that we may be led by the spirit of contrition into the desert of confession; so that in these forty days we may receive the remission of our sins. Then, renewed and purified, may we be found fit to enjoy the gladness of his holy Resurrection, and to be established in the glory of everlasting happiness. May he grant this, to whom be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.


1 BREVIARIUM ROMANUM, Antiphon at Terce in Lent.

2 OVID, Remedia amoris, 161-162

3 BERNARD (=GAUFRIDUS), Declamationes, 44,54; PL 184.465

4 SENECA, Epistola 48,12

5 cf. INNOCENT III, sermo 26, PL 217.573

6 cf. GREGORY, Moralium XXX,18,60; PL 76.556-557

7 OVID, Remedia amoris, 369

Copyright in this translation belongs to Revd Dr S.R.P.Spilsbury

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