THIS largely neglected, but always rewarding preacher was a pastor by calling and a stigmatizer by avocation of all who neglected the Scriptures. A scholar and writer of first rank, he long enjoyed a popular reputation as a powerful homilist. Out of translation in his native France for about a century, his sermons deserve a modern revival. He is presented here in the Biblical fearlessness that usually wins more posthumous patronage than contemporary approval from professionalized Churchmen. The translation by Dr. Louise P. Smith is from MPL 155:1406-10.
I will endeavor that you frequently have the means after my decease, whereby you may keep a memory of these things . . . (II Pet. 1:12)
This passage, dear brethren, has four parts. First, Peter shows how hard he labors for the improvement of his sons. Second, he shows his teaching to be of such a kind and so essential that they must be mindful of it. Third, he confirms its truth by both apostolic and prophetic witness. Fourth, he praises the writings of the prophets.
First, he shows his great anxiety to improve the souls entrusted to him, when he says that he will endeavor constantly to make the teaching of the Gospel known to them so that after his death they will keep it in memory. He, of course, taught them orally. He also taught them by his letters, and he taught them by the good example of his own life. And they, like good sheep, continued mindful of what they had heard.
We also, my brethren, who, like Peter, serve in the Church must follow in his footsteps so far as we can. We should be anxious to teach the souls committed to us, and should make the Gospel teaching known to them. If we cannot teach like Peter by our blood in martyrdom, we can teach by example and word. For these two instruments every pastor must employ; and he who has them not is no true pastor.
Example without words is not enough. Remember how Eli was blamed (I Sam. 2:27-36), although he himself lived rightly, because he did not sufficiently correct his sons. So the Lord spoke through the prophet: If a man has done wickedness and thou declarest it not to him . . . that he may be converted from his wicked way . . . the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand (Ezek. 3:18).
Again, the word is not enough without example. As the Lord spoke by the prophet: When you drank the clearest water, you troubled the rest with your feet . . . And your (D. my) sheep . . . drank what your feet had troubled (Ezek. 34:18, 19). Now shepherds (that is, pastors) drink clear water when they understand and preach sound doctrine. They trouble the rest with their feet when they defile their 130 preaching by evil living. The sheep drink the troubled water when they follow the example of the evil life instead of the preaching they have heard.
But, my brethren, when I look at our lives and the lives of those under our direction, I find few (and this is lamentable) either true preachers or true sheep. For present-day pastors are neither themselves mindful of the Scriptures, nor do they make others mindful. They strive for worldly wealth. In aim and in deed, they show themselves to be not shepherds but hirelings (cf. John 10:11-14). They are not pastors in aim because they seek what is their own, not what is Christ’s. Are there not today prelates who are in the Church, not in order to benefit souls, but in order that they themselves may be exalted, honored, and entertained? They do not ask in which church they can aid more souls, but in which church they can collect more money, find more opportunity for profitable selling. In act, they prove themselves not to be pastors, because they make no effort to feed the sheep by example or by word, but fatten themselves on their offerings. Compare the prophecy: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, that fed themselves: should not the flocks be fed by the shepherds? You ate the milk and you clothed yourselves with the wool, and you killed that which was fat. . . . The weak you have not strengthened and that which was sick you have not healed: and that which was broken you have not bound up, and that which was driven away you have not brought again, neither have you sought that which was lost: but you ruled over them with rigor, and with a high hand. And my sheep were scattered because there was no shepherd: and they become the prey of all the beasts of the field. . . . Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Behold I myself come upon the shepherds: I will require my flock at their hand (Ezek. 34:2-10).
You see, brethren, what we have just read we can observe today. The fat we destroy by our bad example. Those weak in sin we do not strengthen with our advice. Those broken by tribulations we do not console with our counsel. Those astray in error we do not call back. Those lost in despair we do not seek. When an ass falls down, there is some one to raise it; when a soul perishes, there is none to care. What kind of pastor is he who is more concerned with the ills of his pig and donkey than with the trouble of a Christian soul?
If the pastors act like this, what do the sheep do? Certainly it is 131 not strange if the members are afflicted in the affliction of the head. The duty of the sheep is to hear and obey. But today the sinful sheep are unwilling to hear their pastors. They merely say: “The priest preaches to extract the cash.” Even if they listen, they are certainly not mindful of what they have heard. They do not wish to obey their pastor but to judge him. “Why,” they say, “do you not do yourself what you preach?” Thou that sayest men should not commit adultery, commitest adultery: that men should not steal, stealest (Rom. 2:22, 21). When two or three walk together to the forum or to a country-house, then they judge their pastor. They carp and condemn, heedless of the word which the Lord spoke: The disciple is not above his master (Luke 6:40). And this verse: Whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do, but according to their works do ye not (Matt. 23:3).
These wicked sons incur the curse of Ham. When Noah was drunk and exposed himself, Ham mocked him; but Shem and Japheth, turning their eyes away, covered him again. When Noah woke, he cursed the seed of Ham, but Shem and Japheth he blessed (Gen. 9:21-27). My brethren, there is no pastor so perfect that he does not do something of which to be ashamed. But it is a bad son who mocks him and publicly repeats the evil tale. A good servant hides the sin of his master, conceals and excuses it. Consequently, the latter merits a blessing, the former, a curse.
And now, my brethren, because we both have sinned, let us both lament, let us both hasten to do penance. Let us, like good shepherds, endeavor to acquaint you with the Gospel teaching both by word and by example. And you also, like good sheep, endeavor constantly, by listening and obeying, to remember what you have heard.
The second part follows. In this Peter shows that his preaching is so important and of such a kind that all ought to keep it in mind. He continues: For we have not, by following artificial fables, made known to you the power and wisdom (D. presence) of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Pet. 1:16). As if to say: Not fables, but truth and wisdom we make known to you. By these words he condemns those who ignore the Gospels and read poetic fables, bucolic songs, and comedies. For boys, this may have the excuse of necessity; but for others, it is a voluntary offense. How can the lips which daily proclaim Jupiter omnipotent or invoke divine Venus and the rest of the deities — or 132 rather demons — pray to God and offer Him pure praise and petition?
We have . . . made known, he says, to you the power and wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour and King (II Pet. 1:16 and cf. vs. 11). He does not say the humanity or weakness, which are known to all, but the power and wisdom, dubious to unbelievers but assured truth to the faithful. Brethren, although God could have redeemed us by revealing openly His power and wisdom, He did not choose to do so. He hid His divine power in human weakness, and His wisdom in foolishness. For to men it has seemed foolishness that God became man, that the Impassible suffered, that the Immortal died. Therefore, the power of God, by weakness, conquered the power of the Devil; the wisdom of God, by foolishness, conquered the craft of the Devil. We preach, St. Paul says, Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: but unto them that are called both Jews and Greeks . . . the power of God and the wisdom of God. For . . . the weakness of God is stronger than men and the foolishness of God is wiser than men (I Cor. 1:23-25).
Let us, therefore, brethren, learn from the example of our Redeemer to conquer the evil of this world, not by pride, but by humility, by patience, and gentleness. Let us learn to conquer the wisdom of this age, not by craftiness, but by the foolishness of God. For indeed, to this age it seems foolish and futile to despise the world, to reject the age, to forsake all things, to love poverty and inferior station, to desire things invisible. And yet, this foolishness conquers the wisdom of both devil and man.
The third section follows. In this Peter supports the truth with apostolic, prophetic testimony. He begins with the apostolic, for he says: But we were made eyewitnesses of His greatness (II Pet. 1:16). For Peter himself, and James, and John, who were with the Lord on the mountain when He was transfigured, could bear witness to what they had seen and heard; since according to the law, in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall stand (Deut. 19:15).
Now the Lord showed His glory to His disciples for three reasons: to strengthen them in their faith in His divinity, to confirm them in their hope of the resurrection, to make them valid witnesses of both. Therefore our text says: Made eyewitnesses of His greatness, and 133 continues: For Christ received from God the Father honor and glory (Pet. 1:17). Glory in this: that His face did shine as the sun . . . His garments became white as snow (Matt. 17:2). Certainly, in relation to the real glory of the Son, this is very little, since all the saints in Heaven, their true Fatherland, shall shine more than the sun. But so much of divine Glory was manifest in Him as the weak mortal sight of the mortal disciples could gaze upon.
Truly, the Knowledge of the Divine, which blazes in the saints like the sun, is known mystically. The sun does three things: it dries, it enlightens, it warms. Just so, Knowledge of the Divine Countenance dries up and consumes in the saints every thing earthly. Also, it enwarms them so that it renders them fervent in love, that the more they see Him, the more they desire to see Him.
By garments we are to understand either the flesh of Christ, or the saints of whom it was written: Thou shalt be clothed with all these as with a garment (D. ornament) (Isa. 49:18). These garments shall be white as snow. Snow is condensed from the rain of heaven and made white by great cold. By snow, therefore, is meant chastity. Chastity is gained by freezing, that is, by numbing, the flesh, but only with grace. It is not given by grace without numbing, nor by numbing without grace. Those are mistaken who desire to keep the body chaste, but hope to attain chastity from grace alone without labor. God grants virtue, not to those who sleep, but to those who labor. Also, those are mistaken who attempt to gain chastity only by mortifying the flesh. For labor is useless without grace. Even in those who are thin and pale from fasting, fires still burn unless restrained by the grace of God. So Jerome speaks of himself: My face grew pale with fasting, and my mind burned with desires.
The Son received honor from God the Father, when He designated Him Lord of the Law and the Prophets, through Moses and Elijah, between whom He appeared in majesty. And in the witness which the Father bore to Him, as the text continues: This voice coming down to Him from the excellent glory (II Pet. 1:17) — that is, from the glory of the Father magnifying the Son. How? With these words: This is my beloved Son (vs. 17) — that is: He is not another, He is My Son, not adopted like others, but Son in essence, in Whom alone I am pleased. For in Adam and the rest, however saintly, something has always displeased Me. And this voice the text says, we heard 134 brought from heaven when we were . . . on that holy mount (vs. 18). Peter had said above: made eyewitnesses of Him; here he says: we heard. As if to say: You surely ought to believe us when we testify to you what we have both seen and heard.
He continues: And we have the more firm prophetical word (vs. 19). What he calls more firm is “exceedingly firm.” Or perhaps more firm means more firm with reference to the Jews, who accepted the witness of the prophets rather than of the apostles.
The fourth section follows. In this Peter praises prophecy and those who give heed to it, saying, whereunto you do well to attend (vs. 19). Here he condemns, on the other hand, those who are unwilling to pay attention to the reading of the Scriptures. There are many such today, even among officials of Holy Church, who scorn the Scriptures and pursue hawking, hunting, dice, sports, and idle amusements; who even despise the Holy Scriptures and pursue secular law, law-suits, and vain inventions. With these words the ordinary people also are blamed, because they prefer to hear popular songs, banjos, and idle shows rather than the Holy Scripture. Approaching (D. attend), he says, as to a light that shineth in a dark place (vs. 19). The world is dark with a three-fold darkness: with the darkness of sins, the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of misery. The Holy Scripture is truly a light for us in this world. Following it we avoid sin, ignorance, and, at the end, misery. And this light is necessary for us while we are in this age, until the day — the great day of judgment which will have no evening — dawn in the resurrection, which will be like the morning of eternity. And the day-star — that is, Divine Glory — arise on our (D. your) hearts (vs. 19), driving out from deep within us the darkness of sins, the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of misery. And with open face (II Cor. 3:18) we see God as He is (I John 3:2).
By the gift of Him who with the Father and the Holy spirit liveth and reigneth forever and ever. Amen.