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HOMILY OF ST. GREGORY, POPE, ON THE GOSPEL FOR
THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
GOSPEL,Matth. xi. 2-10.—“At that time, when John had heard in prison the works of Christ: sending two of his disciples he said to him : Art thou he that art to come, or do we look for another ? And Jesus making answer, said to them, Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the Gospel preached to them; and blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in me. And when they went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind ? But what went you out to see ? a man clothed in soft garments ? Behold, they that are clothed in soft garments are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see ?-a prophet? yea, I tell you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.”
We must inquire, most beloved brethren, why John, who was a prophet, and more than a prophet, who pointed -- our Lord when he came to him to be baptised in the Jordan, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God,—behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world.” (St.
John i. 29); and who, considering his own humility and the power His divinity, exclaimed : “ He that is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh ; He that cometh from Heaven is above all.” (St. John iii. 31); why, I say, on his being cast into prison, he sent his disciples, asking : “ Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another.” As if he were ignorant of Him, whom he had pointed out; or, as if he did not know Him whom he had proclaimed by his prophesying, by his baptising, by his pointing out. This question will easily be solved if we consider the time and order of the several instances.
When he was set beside the streams of the Jordan, he asserted that he was the Redeemer of the world; but when, being cast into prison, he sent to ask if he had come, he doubted not that he was the Redeemer, but he sought to know if He who had come by himself into the world, had also by himself descended to the gates of Hell; whether he whom he had told as passing through the world, had also by death passed through hell. Therefore, he says, “ Art thou He that art to come,” &c. as if he had said, As thou hast vouchsafed to be born for men; he would insinuate the question, whether he had also vouchsaved for men
to descend unto hell : that so I who have been the forerunner of thy nativity, might also be even the forerunner of thy descent; and declare that thou hast come again from hell, in like manner as I have already declared that thou hast come into the world.
To this question our Lord forthwith replies in humility, by recounting the miracles of his might, saying: “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me.” On seeing such signs, and so great powers, no one could be scandalized; but, on the contrary, filled with admiration. But yet the mind of the unbelievers fell into that grievous scandal, when, even after so many wonders, they saw him dying. Whence St. Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling-block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness.” (1 Cor. i. 23.) For it seemed foolish to men, that the Author of life should die; and hence man took a scandal against Him from whence he ought to have become more his debtor, that He might be honoured. For God ought to be more worthily honoured by men, the more indignities' he underwent for men. What then is it to say, “ Blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me," except plainly to signify his abasement in his death, and his humility. As if he had openly said: I do wonders, but I do not disdain to suffer what is abject. Because I follow thee by dying, therefore let men take great care; lest they despise in me that death, who had reverenced in me my signs and wonders.
Having in this manner dismissed the disciples of John, let us hear what he says to the crowd of John; “ What went you out into the desert to see ? A reed shaken with the wind ?»' in which he leaves his meaning to be inferred rather by negation than by assertion; for as soon as a breath of wind toucheth a reed, it boweth before it on the other side. And what does a reed signify but the carnal mind; that as soon as the breath of favour or of detraction touches it, is bent before it which way so ever it incline. For if the breath of favour shall have breathed from the lips of man ; forthwith the soul is all joyful and puffed up, and as it were bows itself wholly down in thanks ; but if the wind of detraction shall breathe whence this very breath of praise had come, forthwith it is borne away with fury to the other side. But such a reed as this shaken with wind was not St. John ; seeing that neither favour could make him flatter, nor the detraction of any one ever urge him into the harshness of wrath ; seeing that he had learned neither to be puffed up by prosperity, nor cast down by adversity. Therefore He is not a reed shaken by the wind, whom no variety of affairs, can bend from the uprightness of his state. Let us learn then, most beloved brethren, not to be as a reed shaken with the wind; that the state of our soul may stand inflexible, and our mind be made solid in the midst of the breath of every mouth. Let no detraction then, provoke us to wrath ; and let no favour of useless grace induce us to be remiss ; let not prosperity puff us up, nor adversity disturb us ; that we may be so set in solidity, that we may be never moved by the change of any passing thing whatever.
But yet of his sanctity there is subjoined ; “ But what went you out to see ? A man cloathed in soft garments ? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments are ia the houses of kings." Now, as you know, the garment of John is described to have been of camels hair; and what means that “ that they that are clothed in soft garments are in the houses of kings,” but to show aptly, that those who fly from undertaking austerities for Gods sake, fight not for a heavenly, but for an earthly king; and who, given up wholly to external things, seek only after the delicacy and delight of this present life. Let no one then think that there is no sin in superfluity, and in the studiously seeking after precious garments; in which if there were no blame our Lord would not have spoken in this manner in praise of the austerities of John. If there were no blame in this, the Apostle Peter, in his epistle, would not have restrained the desire of women after dress and costly ornaments : saying ; “ Whose adorning let it not be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel, but the uncorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God.” (1 Pet. iii. 3.) Consider how great a fault this must, also, be in men, when the pastor of the Church has forbidden it in women.
But yet again ; by John's being not clothed in soft garments, it may be understood yet this other signification. For he was not clothed in soft garments, seeing he cherished not the life of sinners by flatteries ; but rather rebuked them with the vigour of sharp reproof; saying ; “ Ye brood of vipers, who hath showed you to flee from the wrath to come.” (St. Matth. iii. 7.) As also, it is said by the mouth of Solomon, “ The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails deeply fastened in," (Eccles. xii. 11.) seeing that they cannot smooth over the faults of those that offend, but rather touch them to the quick.
“ But what went you out to see? a prophet? Yea, I tell you more than a prophet.” It was the ministry of a prophet, to foretel, but not to point out things to come. Therefore, John was more than a prophet; because he had prophesied of Him, by going before Him; yea, had shown him, by pointing him out. Now as he was no reed shaken by the wind, and not having been clothed in soft garments, so also, the very name of prophet seems not equal to his worth. Let us see then how he may be worthily called, “ For this is he of whom it is written : “ Behold, I send my Angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee;" where, observe, that what is called in Greek an angel, means also a messenger. Well then is he who is sent to announce the Heavenly Judge, called an angel, that He may have that dignity in name which he fulfils in deed. The name is a high one, yet was his life not lower than his name. Would to God, my most beloved brethren, that we may not say to our judgment that all we who are reckoned by the priestly title, have been called angels, as the prophet witnesseth ; “ 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." (Malach. ii. 7.) But yet you may, if you wish, deserve this high name. For each one of you may have enough, in proportion as he receives the grace of heavenly aspiration ; if he recall his neighbour from wickedness; if he take care to exhort him to have good works ; if he show the eternal kingdom and punishment to him that goes astray; if he weigh well the words of the holy annunciation, TRULY HE IS AN ANGEL. But let no one say, I am not sufficient, to give admonition ; I am not fit for exhortation. Do all you can, lest, like the wicked servant, you be cast into torments, for the ill use you have made of the talent entrusted to your care; lest he who had received but one should hide it, rather than strive to lay it out to usury. Now we know that in the service of the tabernacle there were by the command of the Lord, not only vessels of honour, but vessels of dishonour, (phiale et cyathi.) By vessels of honour, is meant those in whom learning abounds; by vessels of dishonour, those whose knowledge, is small and confined. One inebriates the souls of his hearers more feebly than another by the doctrine of truth; and in this manner may truly be called a vessel of honour (phiala); another cannot express what he feels, but as he does what he can, so he gives a taste as it were out of a vessel of dishonour (cyathus.) Now in God's tabernacle, that is in his holy Church, you are so placed, that if you cannot minister as vessels of honour in the doctrine of wisdom, you may at least, as far as you are able, by the divine bounty, be sufficient to give to your neighbours a cup, a vessel of dishonour of the word of truth ;-as far as you think you can attain, draw ye others with you; desire ye to make them your companions in the way of God. Ifany of you wish to stroll through the market-place, or to go to the bath, he looks out for one that is idle, to go with him ; if this be your wont in worldly matters, if you go to God, see that you go not alone. For hence it is written ; “He that heareth, let him say: come,” (Apoc. xxii. 17,) that he that hath received in his heart the word of heavenly love, may also give out to his neighbour abroad this word of exhortation ; for if haply he hath not bread to give to him that asketh an alms; it is better to give him what his tongue may give. For it is better to refresh the hungry soul with the food of the word for ever; than to satisfy the belly of the flesh that shall die, with earthly bread. Do not then, my brethren keep back the alms of the word from thy neighbour. Let us then, I entreat you, be sparing of every idle word ; let us cease from speaking what is unprofitable ; let us endeavour, as much as in us lies, to bridle our tongues ; not to cast any words to the winds ; mindful of what our Judge should say ;-" that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment.” (St. Matth. xii. 36.) And every word is idle, which is wanting either in profit of uprightness, or the cause of just necessity. Turn then your idle words to the study of edification ; consider how quickly the times of this life fly away ; and take heed that a strict Judge shall come. Set this before the eyes of your heart ; declare it to the souls of your neighbours ; and as far as you are able and your strength allows, neglect not to an. nounce it, that so, you may be called by HIM ANGELS, like St. John.
Feast of St. Bede the Venerable, 1842.
HOMILY OF ST. MAXIMUS, FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY
Gospel--St. John i. 19-28.—“At that time, the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and levites to John to ask him, Who art thou ? And he confessed, and did not deny : and he confessed, I am not the CHRIST. And they asked him, What then ? art thou Elias? And he said, I am not. ---Art thou the prophet ? And he answered, No. They said, therefore, unto him, Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? what sayest thou of thyself ? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias. And they that were sent were of the Pharisees; and they asked him, and said to him, Why then dost thou