SERMONS ON SELECTED LESSONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

SERMON LXXXI.

[CXXXI. BEN.]

ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, JOHN VI. 53, " EXCEPT YE EAT THE FLESH," ETC., AND ON THE WORDS OF THE APOSTLES. AND THE PSALMS. AGAINST THE PELAGIANS.

Delivered at the Table of the Martyr St. Cyprian, the 9th of the Calends of October, --23 Sept., on the Lord's day.

1. We have heard the True Master, the Divine Redeemer, the human Saviour, commending to us our Ransom, His Blood. For He spake to us of His Body and Blood; He called His Body Meat, His Blood Drink. The faithful recognise the Sacrament of the faithful. But the hearers what else do they but hear? When therefore commending such Meat and such Drink He said, "Except ye shall eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, ye shall have no life in you; "[2] (and this that He said concerning life, who else said it but the Life Itself? But that man shall have death, not life, who shall think that the Life is false), His disciples were offended, not all of them indeed, but very many, saying within themselves, "This is an hard saying, who can hear it? "[3] But when the Lord knew this in Himself, and heard the murmurings of their thought, He answered them, thinking though uttering nothing, that they might understand that they were heard, and might cease to entertain such thoughts. What then did He answer? "Doth this offend you?" "What then if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?"[4] What meaneth this? "Doth this offend you?" "Do ye imagine that I am about to make divisions of this My Body which ye see; and to cut up My Members, and give them to you? ' What then if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?'" Assuredly, He who could ascend Whole could not be consumed. So then He both gave us of His Body and Blood a healthful refreshment, and briefly solved so great a question as to His Own Entireness. Let them then who eat, eat on, and them that drink, drink; let them hunger and thirst; eat Life, drink Life. That eating, is to be refreshed; but thou art in such wise refreshed, as that that whereby thou art refreshed, faileth not. That drinking, what is it but to live? Eat Life, drink Life; thou shalt have life, and the Life is Entire. But then this shall be, that is, the Body and the Blood of Christ shall be each man's Life; if what is taken in the Sacrament visibly is in the truth itself eaten spiritually, drunk spiritually. For we have heard the Lord Himself saying, "It is the Spirit That quickeneth, but the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken unto you, are Spirit and Life. But there are some of you," saith He, "that believe not."[5] Such were they who said, "This is a hard saying, who can hear it?" It is hard, but only to the hard; that is, it is incredible, but only to the incredulous.

2. But in order to teach us that this very believing is matter of gift, not of desert, He saith, "As I have said unto you, no man cometh unto Me, except it were given him of My Father."[6] Now as to where the Lord said this, if we call to mind the foregoing words of the Gospel, we shall find that He had said, "No man cometh unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him."[7] He did not lead, but draw. This violence is done to the heart, not the body. Why then dost thou marvel? Believe, and thou comest; love, and thou art drawn. Do not suppose here any rough and uneasy violence; it is gentle, it is sweet; it is the very sweetness that draweth thee. Is not a sheep drawn, when fresh grass is shown to it in its hunger? Yet I imagine that it is not bodily driven on, but fast bound by desire. In such wise do thou come too to Christ; do not conceive of long journeyings; where thou believest, there thou comest. For unto Him, who is everywhere we come by love, not by sailing. But forasmuch as even in this kind of voyage, waves and tempests of divers temptations abound; believe on the Crucified; that thy faith may be able to ascend the Wood. Thou shalt not sink, but shalt be borne upon the Wood. Thus, even thus, amid the waves of this world did he sail, who said, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."[8]

3. But wonderful it is, that when Christ Crucified is preached, two hear, one despiseth, the other ascendeth. Let him that despiseth, impute it to himself; let not him that ascendeth, arrogate it to himself. For he hath beard from the True Master ; "No man cometh unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father." let him joy, that it hath been given; let him render thanks to Him who giveth it, with a humble, not an arrogant heart lest what he hath attained through humility, he lose through pride. For even they who are already walking in this way of righteousness, if they attribute it to themselves, and to their own strength, perish out of it. And therefore Holy Scripture teaching us humility saith by the Apostle, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."[2] And lest hereupon they should attribute ought to themselves, because he said, "Work," he subjoined immediately, "For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."[3] "It is God who worketh in you;" therefore "with fear and trembling," make a valley, receive the rain. Low grounds are filled, high grounds are dried up. Grace is rain. Why dost thou marvel then, if "God resist the proud, and giveth grace unto the lowly"?[4] Therefore, "with fear and trembling;" that is, with humility. "Be not high-minded, but fear."[5] Fear that thou mayest be filled; be not high-minded, test thou be dried up.

4. But you will say, "I am walking in this way already; once there was need for me to learn, there was need for me to know by the teaching of the law what I had to do: now I have the free choice of the will; who shall withdraw me from this way?" If thou read carefully, thou wilt find that a certain man began to uplift himself, on a certain abundance of his, which he had nevertheless received; but that the Lord in mercy, to teach him humility, took away what He had given; and he was on a sudden reduced to poverty, and confessing the mercy of God in his recollection, he said, "In my abundance I said, I shall never be moved."[6] "In my abundance I said." But I said it, I who am a man said it; "All men are liars, I said."[7] Therefore, "in my abundance I said;" so great was the abundance, that I dared to say. "I shall never be moved." What next? "O Lord, in Thy favour Thou gavest strength to my beauty." But "Thou turnedst away Thy Face from me, and I was troubled."[8] "Thou hast shown me," saith he, "that that wherein I did abound, was of Thee. Thou hast shown me Whence I should seek, to Whom attribute what I had received, to Whom I ought to render thanks, to Whom I should run in my thirst, Whereby be filled, and with Whom keep that whereby I should be filled. ' For my strength will I keep to Thee;'[9] whereby I am by Thy bounty filled, through Thy safe keeping I will not lose. ' My strength will I keep to Thee.' That Thou mightest show me this, ' Thou turnedst away Thy Face from me, and I was troubled.' 'Troubled,' because dried up; dried up, because exalted. Say then thou dry and parched one, that thou mayest be filled again; ' My soul is as earth without water unto Thee.'[10] Say, ' My soul is as earth without water unto Thee.' For Thou hast said, not the Lord, ' I shall never be moved.' Thou hast said it, presuming on thine own strength; but it was not of thyself, and thou didst think as if it were."

5. What then doth the Lord say? "Serve ye the Lord in fear, and rejoice unto Him with trembling."[11] So the Apostle too, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who worketh in you." Therefore rejoice with trembling: "Lest at any time the Lord be angry." I see that you anticipate me by your crying out. For you know what I am about to say,' you anticipate it by crying out. And whence have ye this, but that He taught you to whom ye have by believing come? This then He saith; hear what ye know already; I am not teaching, but in preaching am calling to your remembrance; nay, I am neither teaching, seeing that ye know already, nor calling to remembrance, seeing that ye remember, but let us say all together what together with us ye retain. "Embrace discipline, and rejoice," but, "with trembling,"[12] that, humble ye may ever hold fast that which ye have received. "Lest at any time the Lord be angry;" with the proud of course, attributing to themselves what they have, not rendering thanks to Him, from whom they have. "Lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the righteous way." Did he say, Lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye come not into the righteous way"? Did he say, "Lest the Lord be angry, and He bring you not to the righteous way"? or "admit you not into the righteous way? Ye are walking in it already, be not proud, lest ye even perish from it. ' And ye perish,' saith he,' from the righteous way." " When His wrath shall be kindled in a short time"[13] against you. At no distant time. As soon as thou art proud, thou losest at once what thou hadst received. As though man terrified by all this were to say, "What shall I do then?" It follows, "Blessed are all they that trust in Him:" not in themselves, but in Him. "By grace are we saved, not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God."[14]

6. Peradventure ye are saying, "What does he mean, that he is so often saying this? A second and a third time he says it; and scarcely ever speaks, but when he says it." Would that I may not say it in vain! For men there are unthankful to grace, attributing much to poor and disabled nature. True it is, when man was created he received great power of free-will; but he lost it by sin. He fell into death, became infirm, was left in the way by the robbers half dead; the Samaritan, which is by interpretation keeper, passing by lifted him up on his own beast;[1] he is still being brought to the inn. Why is he lifted up? He is still in process of curing. "But," he will say, "it is enough for me that in baptism I received remission of all sins." Because iniquity was blotted out, was therefore infirmity brought to an end? "I received," says he, "remission of all sins." It is quite true. All sins were blotted out in the Sacrament of Baptism, all entirely, of words, deeds, thoughts, all were blotted out. But this is the "oil and wine" which was poured in by the way. Ye remember, beloved Brethren, that man who was wounded by the robbers, and half dead by the way, how he was strengthened, by receiving oil and wine for his wounds. His error indeed was already pardoned, and yet his weakness is in process of healing in the inn. The inn, if ye recognise it, is the Church. In the time present, an inn, because in life we are passing by: it will be a home, whence we shall never remove, when we shall have got in perfect health unto the kingdom of heaven. Meanwhile receive we gladly our treatment in the inn, and weak as we still are, glory we not of sound health: lest through our pride we gain nothing else, but never for all our treatment to be cured.

7. "Bless the Lord, O my soul."[2] Say, yea say to thy soul, "Thou art still in this life, still bearest about a frail flesh, still "doth the corruptible body press down the soul;"[3] still after the entireness of remission hast thou received the remedy of prayer; for still, whilst thy weaknesses are being healed, dost thou say, "Forgive us our debts."[4] Say then to thy soul, thou lowly valley, not an exalted hill; say to thy soul, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits."[5] What benefits? Tell them, enumerate them, render thanks. What benefits? "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities."[6] This took place in baptism. What takes place now? "Who healeth all thy weaknesses." This takes place now; I acknowledge. But as long as I am here, "the corruptible body presseth down the soul." Say then also that which comes next, "Who redeemeth thy life from corruption."[7] After redemption from corruption, what remaineth? "When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is thy contention?" There rightly, "O death, where is thy sting?"[8] Thou seekest its place, and findest it not. What is "the sting of death"? What is, "O death, where is thy sting?" Where is sin? Thou seekest, and it is nowhere. For "the sting of death is sin." They are the Apostle's words, not mine. Then shall it be said, "O death, where is thy sting?" Sin shall nowhere be, neither to surprise thee, nor to assault thee, nor to inflame[9] thy conscience. Then it shall not be said, "Forgive us our debts." But what shall be said? "O Lord our God, give us peace: for Thou hast rendered all things unto us."[10]

8. Finally, after the redemption from all corruption, what remaineth but the crown of righteousness? This at least remaineth, but even in it, or under it, let not the head be swollen that it may receive the crown. Hear, mark well the Psalm, how that crown will not have a swollen head. After he had said, "Who redeemeth thy life from corruption;" he saith, "Who crowneth thee." Here thou wert ready at once to say, "' Crowneth thee,' is an acknowledgment of my merits, my own excellence hath done it; it is the payment of a debt, not a gift." Give ear rather to the Psalm. For it is thou again that sayest this; and "all men are liars."[11] Hear what God saith; "Who crowneth thee with mercy and pity." Of His mercy He crowneth thee, of His pity He crowneth thee. For thou hadst no worthiness that He should call thee, and being called should justify thee, being justified glorify thee. "The remnant is saved by the election of grace. But if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. For to him that worketh, the reward shall not be reckoned according to grace, but according to debt."[12] The Apostle saith, "Not according to grace, but according to debt." But "thee He crowneth with pity and mercy;" and if thy own merits have gone before, God saith to thee, "Examine well thy merits, and thou shalt see that they are My gifts."

9. This then is the righteousness of God. As it is called, "The Lord's salvation,"[13] not whereby the Lord is saved, but which He giveth to them whom He saveth; so too the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord is called the righteousness of God, not as that whereby the Lord is righteous, but whereby He justifieth those whom of ungodly He maketh righteous. But some, as the Jews in former times, both wish to be called Christians, and still ignorant of God's righteousness, desire to establish their own, even in our own times, in the times of open grace, the times of the full revelation of grace which before was hidden; in the times of grace now manifested in the floor, which once lay hid in the fleece. I see that a few have understood me, that more have not understood, whom I will by no means defraud by keeping silence. Gideon, one of the righteous men of old, asked for a sign from the Lord, and said, "I pray, Lord, that this fleece which I put in the floor be bedewed,[1] and that the floor be dry."[2] And it was so; the fleece was bedewed, the whole floor was dry. In the morning he wrung out tim fleece in a basin; forasmuch as to the humble is grace given; and in a basin, ye know what the Lord did to His disciples. Again, he asked for another sign; "O Lord, I would," saith he, "that the fleece be dry, the floor bedewed." And it was so. Call to mind the time of the Old Testament, grace was hidden in a cloud, as the rain in the fleece. Mark now the time of the New Testament, consider well the nation of the Jews, thou wilt find it as a dry fleece; whereas the whole world, like that floor, is full of grace, not hidden, but manifested. Wherefore we are forced exceedingly to bewail our brethren, who strive not against hidden, but against open and manifested grace. There is allowance for the Jews. What shall we say of Christians? Wherefore are ye enemies to the grace of Christ? Why rely ye on yourselves? Why unthankful? For why did Christ come? Was not nature here before? Was not nature here, which ye only deceive by your excessive praise? Was not the Law here? But the Apostle says, "If righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain."[3] What the Apostle says of the Law, that say we of nature to these men. "If righteousness come by nature, then Christ is dead in vain."

10. What then was said of the Jews, the same altogether do we see in these men now. "They have a zeal of God: I hear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge."[4] What is, "not according to knowledge"? "For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishing to establish their own, they have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."[5] My Brethren, share with me in my sorrow. When ye find such as these, do not hide them; be there no such misdirected[6] mercy in you; by all means, when ye find such, hide them not. Convince the gainsayers, and those who resist, bring to us. For already have two[7] councils on this question been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! Therefore do we advise that they may take heed, we teach that they may be instructed, we pray that they may be changed. Let us turn to the Lord, etc.

SERMON LXXXII.

[CXXXII. BEN.]

ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, JOHN VI. 55, " FOR MY FLESH IS MEAT INDEED, AND MY BLOOD IS DRINK INDEED. HE THAT EATETH MY FLESH," ETC.

1. As we heard when the Holy Gospel was being read, the Lord Jesus Christ exhorted us by the promise of eternal life to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Ye that heard these words, have not all as yet understood them. For those of you who have been baptized and the faithful do know what He meant. But those among you who are yet called Catechumens, or Hearers, could be hearers, when it was being read, could they be understanders too? Accordingly our discourse is directed to both. Let them who already eat the Flesh of the Lord and drink His Blood, think What it is they eat and drink, lest, as the Apostle says, "They eat and drink judgment to themselves."[8] But they who do not yet eat and drink, let them hasten when invited to such a Banquet. Throughout these days the teachers feed you. Christ daily feedeth you, That His Table is ever ordered before you. What is the reason. O Hearers, that ye see the Table, and come not to the Banquet? And peradventure, just now when the Gospel was being read, ye said in your hearts, "We are thinking what it is that He saith, `My Flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed.'[9] How is the Flesh of the Lord eaten, and the Blood of the Lord drunk? We are thinking what He saith." Who hath closed it against thee, that thou dost not know this? There is a veil over it; but if thou wilt, the veil shall be taken away.Come to the profession,[10] and thou hast resolved the difficulty. For what the Lord Jesus said, the faithful know well already. But thou art called a Catechumen, art called a Hearer, and art deaf. For the ears of the booty thou hast open, seeing that thou hearest the words which were spoken; but the ears of the heart thou hast still closed, seeing thou understandest not what was spoken. I plead,[11] I do not discuss it. Lo, Easter[12] is at hand, give in thy name for baptism. If the festivity arouse thee not, let the very curiosity induce thee: that thou mayest know the meaning of, Whoso eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him."[13] That thou mayest know with me what is meant, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto thee:"[1] and as I say to thee, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto thee," so do I too knock, open thou to me. When I speak aloud to the ears, I knock at the breast.

2. But if the Catechumens, my Brethren, are to be exhorted not to delay to approach to this so great grace of regeneration; what great care ought we to have in building up the faithful, that their approaching may profit them, and that they eat and drink not such a Banquet unto their own judgment? Now that they may not eat and drink unto judgment, let them live well. Be ye exhorters, not by words, but by your conduct; that they who have not been baptized, may in such wise hasten to follow you, that they perish not by imitating you. Do ye who are married keep the fidelity of the marriage-bed with your wives. Render what you require. As a husband thou requirest chastity from thy wife; give her an example, not words. Thou art the head, look where thou goest. For thou oughtest to go where it may not be dangerous for her to follow: yea, thou oughtest to walk thyself where thou wouldest have her follow. Thou requirest strength from the weaker sex; the lust of the flesh ye have both of you: let him that is the stronger, be the first to conquer. And yet, which is to be lamented, many men are conquered by the women. Women preserve chastity, which men will not preserve; and in that they preserve it not, would wish to appear men: as though he was in sex the stronger, only that the enemy might more easily subdue him. There is a struggle, a war, a combat. The man is stronger than the woman, the "man is the head of the woman."[2] The woman combats and overcomes; dost thou succumb to the enemy? The body stands firm, and does the head lie low? But those of you who have not yet wives, and who yet already approach to the Lord's Table, and eat the Flesh of Christ, and drink His Blood, if ye are about to marry, keep yourselves for your wives. As ye would have them come to you, such ought they also to find you. What young man is there who would not wish to marry a chaste wife? And if he were to espouse a virgin who would not desire she should be unpolluted? Thou lookest for one unpolluted, be unpolluted thyself. Thou lookest for one pure, be not thyself impure. For it is not that she is able, and thou art not able. If it were not possible, then could not she be so. But, seeing that she can, let this teach thee, that it is possible. And that she may have this power, God is her ruler. But thou wilt have greater glory if thou shalt do it. Why greater glory? The vigilance of parents is a check to her, the very modesty of the weaker sex is a bridle to her; lastly, she is in fear of the laws of which thou art not afraid. Therefore iris then that thou wilt have greater glory if thou shall do it; because if thou do it, thou fearest God. She has many things to fear besides God, thou fearest God alone. But He whom thou fearest is greater than all. He is to be feared in public, He in secret. Thou goest out, thou art seen; thou goest in, thou art seen; the lamp is lighted, He seeth thee; the lamp is extinguished, He seeth thee; thou enterest into thy closet, He seeth thee; in the retirement[3] of thine own heart, He seeth thee. Fear Him, Him whose care it is to see thee; and even by this fear be chaste. Or if thou wilt sin, seek for some place where He may not see thee, and do what thou wouldest.

3. But ye who have taken the vow already, chasten your bodies more strictly, and suffer not yourselves to loosen the reins of concupiscence even after those things which are permitted; that ye may not only turn away from an unlawful connection,[4] but may despise even a lawful look. Remember, in whichever sex ye are, whether men or women, that ye are leading on earth the life of Angels: "For the Angels are neither given in marriage, nor marry."[5] This shall we be, when we shall have risen again. How much better are ye, who before death begin to be what men will be after the resurrection! Keep your proper degrees, for God keepeth for you your honours. The resurrection of the dead is compared to the stars that are set in heaven. "For star differeth from star in glory," as the Apostle says; "so also is the resurrection of the dead."[6] For after one manner virginity shall shine there, after another shall wedded chastity shine there, after another shall holy widowhood shine there. They shall shine diversely, but all shall be there. The brilliancy unequal, the heaven the same.

4. With your thoughts then on your degrees, and keeping your professions, approach ye to the Flesh of the Lord, approach to the Blood of the Lord. Whoso knoweth himself to be otherwise, let him not approach. Be moved to compunction rather by my words. For they who know that they are keeping for their wives, what froth their wives they require, they who know that they are in every way keeping continence, if this they have vowed to God, feel joy at my words; but they who hear me say, "Whosoever of you are not keeping chastity, approach not to that Bread," are saddened. And I should have no wish to say this; but what can I do? Shall I fear man, so as to suppress the truth? What, if those servants do not fear the Lord, shall I therefore too not fear? as if I do not know that it is said, " `Thou wicked and slothful servant," thou shouldest dispense, and I require." Lo, I have dispensed, O Lord my God; lo, in Thy Sight, and in the sight of Thy Holy Angels, and of this Thy people, I have laid out Thy money; for I am afraid of Thy judgment. I have dispensed, do Thou require. Though I should not say it, Thou wouldest do it. Therefore I rather say, I have dispensed, do Thou convert, do Thou spare. Make them chaste who have been unchaste, that in Thy Sight we may rejoice together when the judgment shall come, both he who hath dispensed and he to whom it hath been dispensed. Doth this please you? May it do so! Whosoever of you are unchaste, amend yourselves, whilst ye are alive. For I have power to speak the word of God, but to deliver the unchaste, who persevere in wickedness, from the judgment and condemnation of God, have I no power.

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