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Monday, April 16, 2012

Pope St. Leo the Great Sermon XCV. A Homily on the Beatitudes, St. Matt. v. 1-9

Sermon XCV.

A Homily on the Beatitudes, St. Matt. v. 1-9

I. Introduction of the subject.

When our Lord Jesus Christ, beloved, was preaching the gospel of the
Kingdom, and was healing divers sicknesses through the whole of
Galilee, the fame of His mighty works had spread into all Syria: large
crowds too from all parts of Judaea were flocking to the heavenly
Physician [1219] . For as human ignorance is slow in believing what it
does not see, and in hoping for what it does not know, those who were
to be instructed in the divine lore [1220] , needed to be aroused by
bodily benefits and visible miracles: so that they might have no doubt
as to the wholesomeness of His teaching when they actually experienced
His benignant power. And therefore that the Lord might use outward
healings as an introduction to inward remedies, and after healing
bodies might work cures in the soul, He separated Himself from the
surrounding crowd, ascended into the retirement of a neighbouring
mountain, and called His apostles to Him there, that from the height of
that mystic seat He might instruct them in the loftier doctrines,
signifying from the very nature of the place and act that He it was who
had once honoured Moses by speaking to him: then indeed with a more
terrifying justice, but now with a holier mercifulness, that what had
been promised might be fulfilled when the Prophet Jeremiah says:
"behold the days come when I will complete a new covenant [1221] for
the house of Israel and for the house of Judah. After those days,
saith the Lord, I will put My laws in their minds [1222] , and in their
heart will I write them [1223] ." He therefore who had spoken to
Moses, spoke also to the apostles, and the swift hand of the Word wrote
and deposited the secrets of the new covenant [1224] in the disciples'
hearts: there were no thick clouds surrounding Him as of old, nor were
the people frightened off from approaching the mountain by frightful
sounds and lightning [1225] , but quietly and freely His discourse
reached the ears of those who stood by: that the harshness of the law
might give way before the gentleness of grace, and "the spirit of
adoption" might dispel the terrors of bondage [1226] .

II. The blessedness of humility discussed.

The nature then of Christ's teaching is attested by His own holy
statements: that they who wish to arrive at eternal blessedness may
understand the steps of ascent to that high happiness. "Blessed," He
saith, "are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
[1227] ." It would perhaps be doubtful what poor He was speaking of,
if in saying "blessed are the poor" He had added nothing which would
explain the sort of poor: and then that poverty by itself would appear
sufficient to win the kingdom of heaven which many suffer from hard and
heavy necessity. But when He says "blessed are the poor in spirit," He
shows that the kingdom of heaven must be assigned to those who are
recommended by the humility of their spirits rather than by the
smallness of their means. Yet it cannot be doubted that this
possession of humility is more easily acquired by the poor than the
rich: for submissiveness is the companion of those that want, while
loftiness of mind dwells with riches [1228] . Notwithstanding, even in
many of the rich is found that spirit which uses its abundance not for
the increasing of its pride but on works of kindness, and counts that
for the greatest gain which it expends in the relief of others'
hardships. It is given to every kind and rank of men to share in this
virtue, because men may be equal in will, though unequal in fortune:
and it does not matter how different they are in earthly means, who are
found equal in spiritual possessions. Blessed, therefore, is poverty
which is not possessed with a love of temporal things, and does not
seek to be increased with the riches of the world, but is eager to
amass heavenly possessions.

III. Scriptural examples of humility.

Of this high-souled humility the Apostles first [1229] , after the
Lord, have given us example, who, leaving all that they had without
difference at the voice of the heavenly Master, were turned by a ready
change from the catching of fish to be fishers of men, and made many
like themselves through the imitation of their faith, when with those
first-begotten sons of the Church, "the heart of all was one, and the
spirit one, of those that believed [1230] :" for they, putting away
the whole of their things and possessions, enriched themselves with
eternal goods, through the most devoted poverty, and in accordance with
the Apostles' preaching rejoiced to have nothing of the world and
possess all things with Christ. Hence the blessed Apostle Peter, when
he was going up into the temple, and was asked for alms by the lame
man, said, "Silver and gold is not mine, but what I have that I give
thee: in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk [1231]
." What more sublime than this humility? what richer than this
poverty? He hath not stores of money [1232] , but he hath gifts of
nature. He whom his mother had brought forth lame from the womb, is
made whole by Peter with a word; and he who gave not Caesar's image in
a coin, restored Christ's image on the man. And by the riches of this
treasure not he only was aided whose power of walking was restored, but
5,000 men also, who then believed at the Apostle's exhortation on
account of the wonder of this cure. And that poor man who had not what
to give to the asker, bestowed so great a bounty of Divine Grace, that,
as he had set one man straight on his feet, so he healed these many
thousands of believers in their hearts, and made them "leap as an hart"
in Christ whom he had found limping in Jewish unbelief.

IV. The blessedness of mourning discussed.

After the assertion of this most happy humility, the Lord hath added,
saying, "Blessed are they which mourn, for they shall be comforted
[1233] ." This mourning, beloved, to which eternal comforting is
promised, is not the same as the affliction of this world: nor do
those laments which are poured out in the sorrowings of the whole human
race make any one blessed. The reason for holy groanings, the cause of
blessed tears, is very different. Religious grief mourns sin either
that of others' or one's own: nor does it mourn for that which is
wrought by God's justice, but it laments over that which is committed
by man's iniquity, where he that does wrong is more to be deplored than
he who suffers it, because the unjust man's wrongdoing plunges him into
punishment, but the just man's endurance leads him on to glory.

V. The blessedness of the meek.

Next the Lord says: "blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the
earth by inheritance [1234] ." To the meek and gentle, to the humble
and modest, and to those who are prepared to endure all injuries, the
earth is promised for their possession. And this is not to be reckoned
a small or cheap inheritance, as if it were distinct from our heavenly
dwelling, since it is no other than these who are understood to enter
the kingdom of heaven. The earth, then, which is promised to the meek,
and is to be given to the gentle in possession, is the flesh of the
saints, which in reward for their humility will be changed in a happy
resurrection, and clothed with the glory of immortality, in nothing now
to act contrary to the spirit, and to be in complete unity and
agreement with the will of the soul [1235] . For then the outer man
will be the peaceful and unblemished possession of the inner man: then
the mind, engrossed in beholding God, will be hampered by no obstacles
of human weakness nor will it any more have to be said "The body which
is corrupted, weigheth upon the soul, and its earthly house presseth
down the sense which thinketh many things [1236] :" for the earth will
not struggle against its tenant, and will not venture on any
insubordination against the rule of its governor. For the meek shall
possess it in perpetual peace, and nothing shall be taken from their
rights, "when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this
mortal shall have put on immortality [1237] :" that their danger may
turn into reward, and what was a burden become an honour [1238] .

VI. The blessedness of desiring righteousness.

After this the Lord goes on to say: "blessed are they who hunger and
thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied [1239] ." It
is nothing bodily, nothing earthly, that this hunger, this thirst seeks
for: but it desires to be satiated with the good food of
righteousness, and wants to be admitted to all the deepest mysteries,
and be filled with the Lord Himself. Happy the mind that craves this
food and is eager for such drink: which it certainly would not seek
for if it had never tasted of its sweetness. But hearing the Prophet's
spirit saying to him: "taste and see that the Lord is sweet [1240] ;"
it has received some portion of sweetness from on high, and blazed out
into love of the purest pleasure, so that spurning all things temporal,
it is seized with the utmost eagerness for eating and drinking
righteousness, and grasps the truth of that first commandment which
says: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God out of all thy heart, and out
of all thy mind, and out of all thy strength [1241] :" since to love
God is nothing else but to love righteousness [1242] . In fine, as in
that passage the care for one's neighbour is joined to the love of God,
so, too, here the virtue of mercy is linked to the desire for
righteousness, and it is said:

VII. The blessedness of the merciful.

"Blessed are the merciful, for God shall have mercy on them [1243] ."
Recognize, Christian, the worth of thy wisdom, and understand to what
rewards thou art called, and by what methods of discipline thou must
attain thereto. Mercy wishes thee to be merciful, righteousness to be
righteous, that the Creator may be seen in His creature, and the image
of God may be reflected in the mirror of the human heart expressed by
the lines of imitation. The faith of those who do good [1244] is free
from anxiety: thou shalt have all thy desires, and shalt obtain
without end what thou lovest. And since through thine alms-giving all
things are pure to thee, to that blessedness also thou shalt attain
which is promised in consequence where the Lord says:

VIII. The blessedness of a pure heart.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God [1245] ." Great
is the happiness, beloved, of him for whom so great a reward is
prepared. What, then, is it to have the heart pure, but to strive
after those virtues which are mentioned above? And how great the
blessedness of seeing God, what mind can conceive, what tongue
declare? And yet this shall ensue when man's nature is transformed, so
that no longer "in a mirror," nor "in a riddle," but "face to face
[1246] " it sees the very Godhead "as He is [1247] ," which no man
could see [1248] ; and through the unspeakable joy of eternal
contemplation obtains that "which eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
neither has entered into the heart of man [1249] ." Rightly is this
blessedness promised to purity of heart. For the brightness of the
true light will not be able to be seen by the unclean sight: and that
which will be happiness to minds that are bright and clean, will be a
punishment to those that are stained. Therefore, let the mists of
earth's vanities be shunned, and your inward eyes purged from all the
filth of wickedness, that the sight may be free to feed on this great
manifestation of God. For to the attainment of this we understand what
follows to lead.

This blessedness, beloved, belongs not to any and every kind
of agreement and harmony, but to that of which the Apostle speaks:
"have peace towards God [1251] ;" and of which the Prophet David
speaks: "Much peace have they that love Thy law, and they have no
cause of offences [1252] ." This peace even the closest ties of
friendship and the exactest likeness of mind do not really gain, if
they do not agree with God's will. Similarity of bad desires, leagues
in crimes, associations of vice, cannot merit this peace. The love of
the world does not consort with the love of God, nor doth he enter the
alliance of the sons of God who will not separate himself from the
children of this generation. [1253] Whereas they who are in mind
always with God, "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in
the bond of peace [1254] ," never dissent from the eternal law,
uttering that prayer of faith, "Thy will be done as in heaven so on
earth [1255] ." These are "the peacemakers," these are thoroughly of
one mind, and fully harmonious, and are to be called sons "of God and
joint-heirs with Christ [1256] ," because this shall be the record of
the love of God and the love of our neighbour, that we shall suffer no
calamities, be in fear of no offence, but all the strife of trial
ended, rest in God's most perfect peace, through our Lord, Who, with
the Father and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth for ever and ever.

[1219] Cf. S. Matt. iv. 23, 24.

[1220] Divina eruditone firmandos = tous didachthesomenous, a common
form of expression in Leo. Cf. Lett. XXVIII. the Tome, chap. 1, quod
voce omnium regenerandorum (= ton anagennethesomenon), depromitur.

[1221] Or testament (Lat. testamentum).

[1222] In sensu ipsorum.

[1223] Jer. xxxi. 31 and part of 33: the passage is quoted in full,
Heb. viii. 8-12.

[1224] Or testament (Lat. testamentum).

[1225] Cf. Heb. xii. 18 and foll.

[1226] S. Paul's language (Rom. viii. 15) is in his mind.

[1227] Matt. v. 3.

[1228] Et illis in tenuitate amica est mansuetudo et istis divitiis
familiaris elatio.

[1229] The mss. vary between primum and primi. The rendering above
given practically represents either. If primi, however, is read, it
may be questioned whether the true rendering is not "the first apostles
after the Lord," which would be interesting as suggesting that S. Leo
did not necessarily confine the title "apostle" to the Twelve.

[1230] Acts iv. 32.

[1231] Acts iii. 6.

[1232] Praesidia pecuniae.

[1233] S. Matt. v. 4.

[1234] S. Matt. v. 5. It will be observed that Leo's order for the 2nd
and 3rd beatitudes is that of the English version, not that of the

[1235] In nullo iam spiritui futura contraria et cum voluntate animi
perfectae unitatis habitura consensum: compare S. Aug. de Fide et
symbolo, cap. 23, "est autem animae natura perfecta cum spiritui suo
subditur et cum sequitur sequentum Deum--non est desperandum etiam
corpus restitui naturae propriae--tempore opportuno in novissima tuba,
cum mortui resurgent incorrupti et nos immutabimur." The
interpretation of this beatitude in this way is fantastic, and very
strange to modern notions.

[1236] Wisdom ix. 15.

[1237] 1 Cor. xv. 53.

[1238] Quod fuit oneri, sit honori, the play on the words (which is
quite classical) may perhaps be represented by the difference between
onerous and honorary.

[1239] S. Matt. v. 6.

[1240] Ps. xxxiv. 8: suavis, A.V. and R.V. good, P.B.V. gracious, LXX.

[1241] Deut. vi. 5, quoted, it will be remembered, by our Lord, as "the
first and great commandment" in the law, S. Matt. xxii. 37; S. Mark
xii. 30; S. Luke x. 27.

[1242] The two words for "love" here are different, and speak for
themselves, diligere (agapan) Deum and amare (eran) iustitiam.

[1243] S. Matt. v. 7.

[1244] Operantium: operatio is the regular patristic term for the
doing of charitable actions; for this application of the beatitude and
its promised reward, compare Ps. xli. 1-3.

[1245] S. Matt. v. 8.

[1246] 1 Cor. xiii. 12.

[1247] 1 John iii. 2.

[1248] Exod. xxxiii. 20; John. i. 18; 1 Tim. vi. 16.

[1249] Is. lxiv. 4 ; 1 Cor. ii. 9.

[1250] S. Matt. v. 9.

[1251] Rom. v. 1, where "we have" or "let us have" is the exact phrase.

[1252] Ps. cxix. 165.

[1253] A carnali generatione.

[1254] Eph. iv. 3.

[1255] S. Matt. vi. 10.

[1256] Rom. viii. 17.

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