THE preaching, however matter-of-fact, of such a scholar, ecclesiastical reformer, and political negotiator ought not be wholly neglected. His sermons, almost entirely unavailable in translation, are represented here by one example of his spiritualized exegesis and carefully measured treatment. The primacy of the Roman bishopric, the unexcelled preaching of Peter and Paul, and the glorious reign of the Church over all the faithful are developed by means of allegory and proof text. The translation of Dr. Louise P. Smith is based on MPL 217:555-58.
HOW WE OUGHT TO UNDERSTAND THE SEA AS THE WORLD, THE SHIP AS THE CHURCH, THE DEEP SEA AS ROME AND THE NET AS PREACHING
(Sermon XII on the Saints: The Festival of the Apostles Peter and Paul)
When Jesus had entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s . . . sitting he taught the multitude out of the ship. Now when he had ceased to speak, he said to Simon, Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said to him: Master, we have laboured all the night and have taken nothing: but at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes (Luke 5:3-6).
If many waters signify many people (Rev. 19:6), the whole world is certainly denoted by the great sea. In this great sea which stretcheth wide its arms there are creeping things without number, creatures little and great. There the ships shall go (Ps. 104:25 f.; D. 103:25 f.)
Just as the sea is always stormy and turbulent, so the world remains always in storm and stress; nowhere is there peace and security, never is there rest and quietness, but everywhere toil and trouble. For the whole world is seated in wickedness (I John 5:19). Laughter shall be mingled with sorrow, and mourning taketh hold of the end of joy (Prov. 14:13). With reason, therefore, the apostle laments: Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death (Rom. 7:24)? And the Psalmist said, Bring my soul out of prison (Ps. 142:7; D. 141:8). Man is born to labour and the bird to fly (Job 5:7). All his days are sorrow and miseries, even in the night he doth not rest in mind (Eccles. 2:23). Great labour is created for all men, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day of their coming out of their mother’s womb until the day of burial in the mother of all (Ecclus. 40:1). In the sea, the small fishes are devoured by the great; and in the world, the weak men are oppressed by the strong. They eat up my people, the Psalmist says, as they eat bread. They have not called upon God; there they have trembled for fear (Ps. 53:4, 5; D. 52:5, 6). The wild ass is the lion’s prey in the desert: so also are the poor devoured by the rich (Ecclus. 13:23). 178 As the poet says, The wrongs Kings do, are suffered by their subjects (Hor. Ep. I. 11:14).
When Christ said to Peter, Launch out into the deep — that depths of the sea is Rome, Rome which held and holds primacy and sovereignty over the whole world, the city which God deemed worthy of such high dignity that she alone in pagan times had dominion over all nations, and in Christian times she alone has authority over all the faithful. God, therefore, prepared a place worthy and suitable; indeed, he provided both suitability and worth when He commanded him who was Head of the Church to establish his throne in the city which held the primacy of the world. Thus the Lord said to Peter, Launch into the deep (Luke 5:4); saying in effect, Go to Rome, proceed, you and yours, to the city and there let down nets for a draught (Ibid.).
We see clearly how much God loved that city: to make her alone both priestly and royal, both imperial and apostolic, to give her power to win and exercise, not only dominion over bodies, but also authority over souls. She is now far greater and more honorable with heavenly authority than formerly with earthly power. By the one she holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven; by the other she holds the reins of the realm of earth. Truly, to no other city can there ever come the honor of such dignity — or rather the dignity of such honor. But in this city the dignity will remain by the eternal love of God’s providence.
When Peter had left Rome in flight from the persecution of unbelievers, the Lord appeared to him near the city. When Peter said to him, “Lord, whither goest thou?” he answered: “I go to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter understood that this was spoken concerning himself, since the head is crucified with every member. He returned to the city, and consecrated it with his blood shed on the cross.
Also he had as a helper there the most blessed Paul. This is the reason why, in our text, a singular verb is followed by a plural. Launch [thou] into the deep: and [you] let down the nets for a draught, because Peter, the Head of the whole Church, alone ascended to the height of supreme pontiff, but he and Paul, together, let down their nets of preaching to catch men in the city. Certainly it was only by a special dispensation of divine Providence that exactly where 179 two brothers according to the flesh, Romulus and Remus, who founded the material city, lie buried in honorable tombs, two brothers according to the faith, Peter and Paul, who laid the spiritual foundations of the city, lie at rest buried in two glorious churches — Peter in that quarter where Romulus is buried, and Paul on the other side where Remus is buried. So from both sides, they watch over and guard your city. One indeed reached the height, but both let down nets for a draught.
Further, as the ship is Christ, the sea the world, the deep Rome, so by the net we understand preaching. For as a net is composed of different cords and strings, a sermon is also made strong by different authorities and arguments. And the careful preacher ought to compose his sermon with a variety of material and many different authorities so that he speaks now of virtues, now of faults; sometimes of rewards, again of penalties, somewhat of mercy, and somewhat of justice; now simply, now subtly; using history, then allegory; speaking now literally, now figuratively; citing authorities and giving arguments; employing metaphors and illustrations — so that each point takes its place fitly set forth (Hor. de Art. Poet.)
These are the threads, these are the cords of which the net, that is, the sermon, is composed and made strong. This is taught by St. Paul, a peerless preacher who says concerning himself, We speak wisdom among the perfect. For I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:6, 2). And again, I could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto little ones in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat (I Cor. 3:1, 2).
Moreover, with nets we capture fishes, birds and beasts. But fishes are in the water, birds in air, beasts on the earth. By fishes we understand the self-indulgent, by birds the proud, by beasts the violent. Therefore, the preacher composes his sermon against self-indulgence, pride, and passion; and he includes citations from authorities and arguments, comparisons, and illustrations in order to win the self-indulgent to self-control, the proud to humility, the passionate to mildness. So, when he lets down the net of his preaching, he may capture fishes in the water, birds in the air, beasts on the earth. But he does not kill his captives, he gives them new life. He does not slay; he feeds them. He does not abandon them; he protects them.
Such nets the most blessed saints, Peter and Paul, alike, let down 180 for the draught. By their preaching Rome was converted from error to truth, from sins to virtues. Therefore, Rome owes veneration to all the apostles, but to these two she owes peculiar and especial honor as first and pre-eminent, as her own fathers and protectors. By their merits and prayers may she be so preserved on earth, that in the end she may be crowned with joy in heaven. In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is above all, God, blessed for ever. Amen.