MENOT’S sermons, all too little known at best, have frequently been disparaged as barren scholasticism by some and as literary barbarism by others. The following selection may help to make possible a fairer appraisal of this French Minorite. In the very period of Luther’s emergence he was stressing the function of Biblical preaching in the reform of Church and society. His strictures on ecclesiastical abuses and social perversions as found in every class frequently draw upon the vernacular. Stylistic weakness is at times more than compensated by prophetic vigor. Dr. Louise P. Smith’s translation is made from Men.Nev. 229-35.
Good people, I said yesterday, in the beginning of my sermon, that the proud king Hezekiah, when he heard the evil tidings heralding the approach of death, immediately forgot the honors of this world and the glory of his kingdom and prostrated himself on the ground, seeking favor and mercy from God. But what was it that quelled the armed wrath of his enemies? We are assured that this was accomplished by the agency of Isaiah, the servant of God.
It is Isaiah who, today, marks out for s the pattern to be followed in preaching. To him the Lord said: Cry, cease not, lift up thy voice. What then is this pattern? We are told what it is and ought to be:(L 1:1)
Ardor in exhortation
Authority in instruction
Austerity in condemnation.
The first requirement for preaching is that the preacher must speak, not merely from his mouth, but also from his heart. Therefore, holy preaching is not like a musical performance given solely to refresh the audience. The worldly today are still saying: Speak unto us pleasant things, (Isa. 30:10), and we will hear you. On the contrary, the preacher must be harsh and sharp-tongued when he reproves faults! Consider (I Sam. 7:8), where the people who were returning to the Lord in penitence said to Samuel: Cease not to cry to the Lord our God for us that He may save us out of the hands of the Philistines. Now the Scripture does not say merely “speak,” but cease not to “cry.” Truly, courage and a sincere heart are required to exhort a sinful people.
Who then is fit? St. Paul, a teacher of truth, a holy vessel, the light and glory of civilization and Christianity, said: Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel (I Cor. 9:16)! St. Paul, who was filled with grace, whose tongue spoke continually the glory of Christ and His ardent love, who was accorded full honor by the other apostles! I believe that Christ had no more faithful servant and soldier than this Paul, no one who has preached his name more fervently among the Gentiles. And this is proved by his deeds. When he saw that some objected to his carrying on his duty of preaching, and he was warned 302 to be silent; he said with great vehemence: Woe is me, etc. You see how great was his zeal in exhorting the people of God. Would that our preachers today had at least a spark kindled from his Ardor!
Be a wise guide, it is said (Canon Law), in silence, be a wise guide; in speech be apposite and prudent; neither declare what ought to be kept silent, nor hold back what should be spoken. For just as imprudent speech leads to error, so unwise silence may leave in error those who might be instructed. Short-sighted leaders, dreading the loss of human favor, often fear to speak the right openly. In the Dispensatio, the words of Ruth, chap. 2, are quoted. And in that connection we find specified the ways preachers and rulers ought to teach the people and preach the word of God. For their duty is to teach that Truth of whom John records: I am the way and the truth and the life, etc. (14:6 text, 13). But in these days the words of Isaiah (15:10) can be applied to many. They are all . . . dumb dogs, not able to bark, for they have a bone in their mouth.
Secondly: Authority in instruction. This is stated plainly in the last chapter of Mark (16:15). Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. Now it is said in De Officiis Ordi (Canon Law): Among all the means which contribute to the salvation of Christian people, the bread of the world of God is recognized as the most necessary of all. The soul is nourished by spiritual food as the body by material, for Not in bread alone doth man live; but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).
The preachers and priests today are successors to the office of the apostles, the proclaiming of the word of God. This is plain from the Canon Law. Therefore, as the Lord said to the apostles, go . . . and preach; so today it is said to you through Isaiah (40:9): Get thee up upon a high mountain, thou that bringest good tidings to Zion (D. Jerusalem); as though God said to him: “You who are commissioned to preach, go to the top of the mountain” — that is, to the city. Speak to the cities of Judah: Behold the Lord God shall come with strength and His arm shall rule (Isa. 40:9, 10).
If a Brother Minor (Franciscan) preaches, this is either by the favor of the prelate, or by especial authority and commission. May they discharge their office well! But I would rather inquire from Isaiah why the Lord says that preachers are to betake themselves to 303 great cities rather than to small towns and villages. Isaiah and Jerome were sent to Jerusalem; David to Babylon; Jonah to Nineveh, a great city of three days’ journey (Jonah 3:3); Paul to Rome, John the Baptist was in the desert, but he was told to go to Jerusalem.
Does someone suggest that this is because the great doctors and learned men are in the large cities? And are there not, in large cities, great pecuniary rewards for which the preachers may strive? No! No! That is not the point. For if those who are in the cities did what they know ought to be done, they would not so often win renown.
This is the true reason: Because more sins are committed there. More wicked men live in large cities than in small villages. Where will you find great and monstrous sins except in the cities? Where today are the devourers and torturers of the poor? Certainly there. Abductors and violaters of girls, flagrant adulterers, murderers, gormandizers, drunkards, and dissolute men? Certainly in cities. Where now are pomps and vanities? Surely in cities. Where today are the gamblers at cards and dice? Where are gross blasphemy, treachery, envy, slanderers, usurers, cheats, deceivers, and traders on credit? Where today is the dominion of all seven mortal sins? Where is the seat of their power, if not in the great cities? Over the cities Satyricus laments:
What in the future can be gained?
Desires will be the same,
But their achievement lame.
The pinnacle of shame
Is here and now by us attained.
And so I rest all on the words of Isaiah (1:21 ff.), spoken in amazement and grief and bitterness of heart: How is the faithful city that was full of judgment become a harlot? Justice dwelt in it, but now murderers. And he continues: Thy wine is mingled with water. Thy princes are faithless, companions of thieves; they all love bribes, they run after rewards. They judge not the fatherless; and the widow’s cause cometh not into them.
Now to interpret this practically: — When the Lord first ordained, in cities, cathedral churches where He would be especially honored, and instituted, in the metropolitan cities, the seat of justice; He 304 established the state officials. These men were to render due justice to every man, so that by them the people might be governed and protected in peace. This is clear from the Canon Law: Laws are made in order that human wilfulness be controlled by fear of them; that innocence may be safe among the wicked; and that among the wicked themselves, wilfulness, and the ability to cause harm may be bridled by the dread of penalty.
But now the lords of justice are like the cat who is set to guard the cheese to keep mice from eating it. But if the cat once puts its own teeth into the cheese, it will do more damage in one bite than the mice in twenty. So the officials of the king are appointed to protect the common people, the poor. Yet they do more harm to a poor man in the course of winning for him six votes in one lawsuit than all the taxes, all the fines, and all the soldiers and men-at-arms who can come upon him in a year.
What, I ask you, is the present state of the world? Hosea (cf. 4:1 ff.) gives the answer. There is no justice, there is no truth of God in the land, but cursing, etc. In the world, wisdom is no more found; there saintliness is lost; truth sleeps. The Grace of God is lacking in the great cities. There in broad day occur robberies, rape, murder. There are prostitution, fraud, scoffing and torture of the poor, open simony and usury. If one man were killed in a country district, everyone for four leagues around would shudder in his whole body at the awfulness of the crime. But in the city, when a good merchant or a court counselor is seen set upon by lewd fellows, or when they seize a modest and pretty girl by her hair and consign her to the brothel, or when a good man is killed in your own quarter; no attention is paid to it.
And why is this? Because justice is sleeping and there is no law of God in the land. Thus Isaiah (L 1:23), describing our judges who are today in our land, spoke as well and truly as if he were in this seat of truth where I am: Thy princes are faithless, companions of thieves, they all love bribes. For all covet wealth. O miserable judges, listen! Of what are you thinking? You are told in the Canon Law: It is forbidden a judge to sell just judgment. Still less may he sell unjust.
Human justice is perverted in four ways: by fear, by greed, by hatred, and by love. How serious it is to pervert justice either by 305 hatred or friendship, or fear or bribe, or for any cause whatever. Augustine bears witness saying: Whoever is influenced in judging either because of kinship or friendship, or racial hatred, or by personal enmities, perverts the judgment of Christ who is justice, and transforms the fruit of justice into the bitterness of condemnation.
My people, it is written that St. John, the Baptist, an eminent example of a holy and austere life, was preaching in the desert and winning people to salvation. But after he heard of the sin and infamy of Herod, he immediately left the desert and betook himself to the city. And when he learned that the sin was known to all, filled with spiritual zeal, he said to Herod: It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). O limb of Satan1 O offshoot of hell! It is not lawful. . . .
Not so speak our judges today. They attack no vices. In fact, they grumble when preachers wish to blame such things. Therefore, it is not without reason that preachers are sent to the cities. The command is not irrelevant: Speak to the cities of Judah (Isa. 40:9); because monstrous sins have dominion there.
Thirdly: Austerity in condemnation. Wide is the difference between the voice of the preacher and the piping of the shepherd which serves only to make the goats leap. For when duty requires the preacher to attack sin with fervent heart, his voice is like the voice of a trumpet, sounding and striking the heart.
I . . . heard the voice of an eagle, like the voice of a trumpet in the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants, etc. (Rev. 8:13). St. John, carried away by the Spirit, said: I . . . heard the voice of an eagle, flying through the air, proclaiming the wrath of God, swift to descend upon us. Never did a horse hearing the voice of the trumpet tremble so violently under his knightly rider, as the people must tremble when they hear this terrible voice. Today let the preacher say:
Pursuers of carnal pleasures
Woe to you: Collectors of worldly treasures
Who regard not your own salvation.
The first curse is hurled against those who follow carnal pleasures. That is the first Woe. Christ confirmed it, saying: Woe to you that are rich for you have your consolation (Luke 6:24). The reason is, it shall turn to desolation. This becomes clear in the case of that rich 306 man: Thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime (16:25), and Woe to you who laugh (6:25).
O you unhappy men, who sleep on well-covered couches, wrapped in luxurious fabrics, desirous of taking your pleasures here in ease, in drunkenness, and in gluttony; yet you expect to gain Paradise by such kind of living! On your heads the curse will descend. How can that be? Hear what Isaiah (5:11) says: Woe to you that rise up early in the morning to follow drunkenness, and to drink till evening, to be inflamed with wine. Hear also Paul (Rom. 8:13): I you live according to the flesh you shall die.
My daughter, if you wish to escape the curse and the damnation of body and soul, beware of intoxication and drunkenness, for otherwise the curse pronounced on the wicked rich man will fall upon you. If thou give to thy soul her lusts, she will make thee a joy to thy enemies (Ecclus. 18:31).
The Second Woe — to those who collect worldly treasure. The second Woe is against the accursed usurers who never cease their pursuit of gain. This curse Habakkuk has spoken (2:9): Woe to him that gathereth together an evil covetousness to his house, that his nest may be on high. And Isaiah (5:8): Woe to you that join house to house and lay field to field, even to the end of the place: shall you alone dwell in the midst of the earth? Also Habakkuk (2:6, 8): Woe to him that heapeth together that which is not his own . . . Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all that shall be left of the people shall spoil thee. This is what is meant by the saying: No third heir will enjoy ill-gotten gains.
O you miserable usurers! By your usury you have destroyed the poor and driven them out naked into great misery. You men without pity and moderation! You are having your Paradise this year. For because you see that this year there is a great scarcity of grain, you are selling your stores to the poor for double what you paid. Your barns are full, and the people are tortured with hunger. What kind of mercy do you have? Surely there shall be done to you in another world what you have done to the poor. Therefore, take warning from the wicked rich man. Judgment without mercy shall be given to him that hath not done mercy (Jas. 2:13)
Listen, Gentlemen! When the wood-cutter is in the woods, at first 307 he cuts the trees at the base, and afterwards the large boughs, and finally the small branches which he binds together. Like him are the prothonotaries who have dispensations for holding three — no, fifteen — benefices at once, and are guilty of simony and sacrilege. They do not hesitate to appropriate incompatible benefices; it is all the same to them. If a bishopric is vacant, a fat bundle of other benefices will be given in exchange for it. The accumulation begins with the archdeaconate, abbeys, two priories, three or four prebends. All these will be given in payment, though not the smallest office in the bundle is unnecessary or useless. What purpose then does the bundle serve? Surely to burn your souls in the fire of hell.
Do I not speak the truth? Today are not cardinalates fattened with bishoprics, and bishoprics with added abbeys and priories? Such are the ways and actions of all devils. Have not all of you read the legends of the Saints? Among these modern bishops have you found one Saint who held two bishoprics or two abbeys?
Thirdly: Woe to those who disregard their own salvation. Woe to you, ungodly men, who have forsaken the house (D. law) of the most high God (Ecclus. 41:11). They are cursed who decline from Thy commandments (Ps. 119:21; d. 118-21). O sinners, blinded by your sins! You know not the miserable state in which you are. If you die thus, you will be damned eternally. Lift up the eyes of your mind, I beg you, that you many know your miserable state. For if you wait until you are drawing your last breath upon your deathbed, I fear that God may then pronounce upon you a curse instead of a blessing — precisely because you desired to mock Him.
There follows in the Scripture (Isa. 58:1): Show to my people their wicked doings and to the house of Jacob their sins. But what is this house of Jacob? It is declared with certainty to be our Mother, the Holy Church, which is the house of God. Concerning it Isaiah (2:3) says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob.
It is said today that there are so many sins in the world — and not only among the laity. They are multiplying also in the Church. Therefore, the sinful ecclesiastics ought first to be rebuked, as the Lord says: Go . . . through the city and strike . . . but upon whomsoever you shall see Thau (ת), kill him not. And begin ye at my 308 sanctuary (Ezek. 9:5, 6). For there is no one who is to be cleared of blame.
But, Lord, who sendest me, saying to me, Cry! What shall I
cry (Isa. 40:6)?
To the just, glory.
To penitent sinners, pardon.
And to those persisting in evil, eternal damnation.
Apply all these words as they seem fitting to you. Amen.