[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]


From No Uncertain Sound, Sermons that Shaped the Pulpit Tradition, Edited, with an Introduction, by Ray C. Petry, Professor of Church History, Duke University, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1948; pp. 214-223.



THIS discerning mystic and illustrious scholastic closely parallels, in the Franciscan order, the distinction of Thomas Aquinas among the Dominicans. He is not so completely reduced to barren outlines in his extant sermons as is his contemporary. But, in the main, his homiletics does scant justice to the devotional warmth and administrative resourcefulness of his creative powers. The first passage, one of the more edifying already in translation, is supplied by Ne.Mpp. 252-56 from the Rome ed. (1588-96), Vol. III. The second, for the first time translated into English from Bonav.Op.Qr. IX, 349-51, by Miss Dorothy Ann Freeman, is representative both of his more humanizing interests and his sometimes deadly obsession for methodical procedure.




John 20:22. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. O, what a wonderful licence, — Receive Ye! O what a wonderful grace that He gave, not gold nor silver, but the Holy Ghost! Now we may notice that Jesus Christ proposed to us in the gospel four very notable things to be received, namely: the Cross, in the chastisement of our evil natures, His Body in Sacramental Communion, the Holy Ghost in mental unction, the Penny in eternal remuneration.

Of the first: He that taketh not up his cross and followeth Me (Matt. 10:38). The Cross is the mortification of the flesh: they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). He takes up the Cross who accepts a penance, who enters into religion, who determines to pass through the sea of this world into the holy Land, that is, the Land of the Living: and he receives the remission of all his sins. There are four things which urge us to take up this Cross. The first is the irrefutable example of our Lord Jesus Christ: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (Matt. 16:24). For it is a glorious thing that the servants should be configured to the likeness of their Lord. The second is invincible help: for the Lord is the helper of them that are signed with the Cross. The Psalmist: Thou, Lord, hast holpen me and comforted me (Ps. 86:17; D. 85:17). Thou hast holpen me against the evil of sin, and hast comforted me against the evil of punishment. Wherefore, when the sign of the Cross appears in a Church, there also has been the anointing with oil, because there ought to be in ourselves, external triumph, and internal unction. Bernard: Many see our Cross, but see not our unction. The third is inviolable privilege. For the privilege of them that have taken the Cross is to be in the special guardianship of the Pope. But this is often violated: it is not so in our Cross: Slay not the men on whom ye find the sign of Tau (Ezek. 9:6). From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 6:17). The fourth is a reward that cannot be lost. Many return from the Holy Land, who, by negligence and evil living, lose their reward. It is not so with those who are here signed: They that were sealed out of every people stood before the throne (cf. Rev. 7:9). On this Cross, O Christian soul, thou must hang without intermission, as Christ did, Who would not be taken 216 down from the Cross while He lived! so neither must thou be from thy life of penitence or of religion. Bernard: Let us listen to no one, brethren, neither to man nor to spirit, who would persuade us to come down from the Cross; let us persist in remaining on the Cross, let us die on the Cross, let us be taken down by the hands of others and not by our own, after His example Who said on the Cross, It is finished (John 19:30). So do thou also remain to the end on the Cross, and thus at the termination of thy life, when thou art about to give up the ghost, thou mayest say, It is finished; I have kept the rule which I vowed, obedience, penitence, the commandments of God, I have kept them all; I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course (II Tim. 4:7).

Of the second: Take, eat, This is My Body (Matt. 26:26). But in what manner we are to receive the Body of Jesus, we read: And when Joseph had received the Body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth (27:59). Thou must, therefore, receive from the Altar the Body of Jesus with the same fervour and devotion with which Joseph received it from the Cross. The Altar, by its four corners, sets forth the Cross. Do thou thus wrap our Lord’s Body in clean linen. The Gloss: He wraps Jesus in clean linen, who receives Him with a pure mind. Now purity is well set forth by linen, which is in its nature most white, and thereby sets forth how pure we should be in our souls. It is written: Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk (Lam. 4:7). Purity of heart is the milk, by which God and the angels are delighted. A fly or dust shows itself at once in milk; so in a pure conscience, any, the smallest stain, cannot be hid. And, as a fly is quickly cast forth by any one who is drinking milk, so the busy fly of impure thought is cast out from a pure conscience. Much it displeases the devil, much it pleases God and the Angels, when you eject the fly of the devil from the milk of the heart. Bernard: It is the part of demons to inject evil thoughts; it is our part not to consent to them. For, as often as we resist, we conquer the devil, we glorify the Angels, we honour God. It is impossible to say how great is the joy of the Angels when one heart is converted to God: so on the other hand, neither can we express the grief with which demons are then afflicted, they, who are ever lying in ambush to deprive us of our salvation.

Of the third it is thus written: Receive the Holy Ghost (John 20:22). 217 The Holy Ghost is here given to the disciples when the doors were shut, as the oil was multiplied in the vessels borrowed from the neighbours when the doors were also shut: note the history. The oil is the grace of the Holy Ghost. In the Psalm: God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness (Ps. 45:7; D. 44:8). Vessels which are lifted by the hand, are the virtues and examples for which we look in the saints who now dwell in this world, and which we collect into the house of our soul, as if we borrowed vessels from our neighbours; but those vessels are empty so far as we are concerned, if we imitate not those examples of the saints by the grace of the Holy Ghost. Whereas on the other hands, the virgins that were wise took oil in their lamps, as it is written. The doors of our senses are sight, taste, hearing, touch, smell, and thy mouth is the gate. Unless these doors be cleansed against unlawful thoughts, the oil of grace will not be multiplied in the house of thy soul. Anselm: Enter into the closet of thy mind, and shut the door on all things except the Lord, and that which assists in seeking Him.

Of the fourth: They likewise received every man a penny (Matt. 20:9). The penny is eternal life, which is not given save to those who labour in the vineyard, that is in penitence or religion; in which vineyard we must not only labour, but also triumph over that lion the devil, which is prefigured in Samson, Then Samson came to the vineyard of Timnath, and behold a young lion roared against him (Judges 14:5). That lion he conquered, and afterwards found honey in his mouth. Honey is the sweetness of the consolation of the Holy Ghost. My Spirit is sweeter than honey (Ecclus. 24:27). You see then that the honey of grace is not given save to them that fight, nor is the penny of glory bestowed save on them who labour in the vineyard.



BE YE MERCIFUL, AS YOUR FATHER IS MERCIFUL — Luke 6:36 (Sermon II for the First Sunday After Pentecost)

(Protheme) Deal with your servant according to your mercy (Ps. 119:124; D. 118:124)

The servant who offends his master in many things, if he asks his master to give him justice, asks an ill thing, since he calls down punishment upon himself; but the more he humbles his heart before his master and begs compassion, the sooner is his master moved to mercy. Thus the Psalm says in the text: Deal mercifully with thy servant, not justly, for every day we practice iniquities against God. Let us, therefore, beg mercy of him, and he will not deny us, for he is merciful and exalted above evil (Joel 2:13). And because we must beg of him the word of his sacred preaching, let us ask it in humility of heart, for the prayers of the humble and mild are always pleasing to him. Let us first implore God. . . . 

Be ye merciful . . . Among all the works which Christ has done according to our needs, the most outstanding is his mercy; and the more necessary it is to us, the more worthy it is of blessing and praise; as it is written in the Psalm: His tender mercy is above all his works (Ps. 145:9; D. 144:9). Therefore, our Savior Christ, who is the father of mercy and the God of all consolation, summons his disciples and us, with them, to the works of mercy, when he says: Be ye merciful, and he offers himself as an example of mercy, when he says, As your Father is merciful. First the example is seen, and then the book of examples is written; in the same way the example of mercy, that is, our Savior, ought first to be seen, and afterward the text should be written on the tablets of our hearts.

I.  God has pity upon us in four ways; first, as a physician pities the sick; secondly, as a mother, her son; thirdly, as a lord, his slave; fourthly, as a master, his disciple. Thus, God deals with sinners as a physician; with the penitent as a mother; with those who are making progress toward perfection as a lord; and with the perfected as their master.


In the first place, as I say, God takes pity upon us as a physician pities the sick; as in the ninth chapter of Matthew [it is written]: The work of the physician is not with the sound but with those that are ill (vs. 12). In two ways, moreover, the physician has compassion on the sick man: first, by visiting him in person; and, secondly, by curing him by his art and wisdom. In a similar way Christ visited us, like the doctor, with his bodily presence, in his first coming, when he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary. As Augustine says: “The great physician came to us, because great disease was everywhere”; and the graver the disease appeared, the more imperative was our need of so great a physician. Similarly, every day he visits us spiritually through his grace, especially when, by the virtue of the Lord’s passion, the blood of Christ is shed for us in the blush and the shame of the sin which we have committed. Thus Luke says in the first chapter: Through the inward parts of the mercy of our God . . . [the day-spring from on high hath visited us] (vs. 78). And note Bernard: “The Lord,” he says, “was thinking thoughts of peace, [although] I did not know it, and therefore this the nail piercing thy flesh was made the key opening the door of the heavenly Kingdom, that there might be disclosed to me, the inward parts of thy mercy in which thou has visited us, as if arising out of the deep.” Behold, in this way has Christ, in the first place, visited us as a physician by his bodily presence.

Secondly, the Lord cures us through his art and wisdom like a wise physician. For that is plainly set forth in the parable about a man who was wounded and fell among thieves, who robbed him and departed, leaving him half dead (Luke 10:30 ff.). Here he says that a certain Samaritan, seeing him who was wounded, was moved to mercy, and drawing near to him bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and putting him on his own beast he brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The Samaritan, the guardian, is Christ, who thus cures the sinner who has been robbed of the grace of God and wounded by mortal sin. First he binds up his wounds; this binding up of the wounds is the curbing of the five senses of the body. The pouring in of wine is the stinging reproof of sin; the infusion of oil is the sweetness of the hope and mercy of God. The wounded man is put upon the beast, when, as helped by the prayers of good men, he obtains partnership in their rewards; he is brought into the inn, when, 220 in his secret conscience, he detests the sight of the foulness and filth of his sin. Finally, the ointment of grace is given to the sick man, and he is cured.

In the second place, the Lord pities those of us sinners who repent of our sins, as a mother pities her own son; as Isaiah says, in the forty-ninth chapter: As a mother comforts her son . . . , and in another place Can a woman forget her suckling, so that she has no compassion for the son of her womb? And even if she forgets, I shall not forget you (vss. 13,15). In two ways the mother shows compassion for her son; she procures what is necessary for him, and she patiently sustains his weakness. God provides what is necessary for us; it is he who gives sustenance to all flesh (Ps. 136:25; D. 135:25), who opens his hand and fills all things with his benevolence. He gives in such abundance que tout va au-dessus.1 Also he patiently supports our infirmity. This is plain to see in the story of the prodigal son returning to his father, where we read that his father was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck and kissed him (Luke 15:20). The father could have reproached him for the squandering of his goods and because of his fornication and his filth, but, instead, he met him with tender mercy of heart. Think how a mother, seeing her boy crying, wipes away his tears with her hand, and sometimes weeps with the child for his offenses against his father. Thus God wipes away the tears of his Saints, and he is moved with compassion, when a sinner returns to him through penitence.

In the third place, the Lord takes pity upon us as a master upon his servant; as in the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy: The Lord shall judge his people and take pity on his servants (vs. 36). In two ways the master has compassion on his slave: first, discovering him in misdoing he spares him; secondly, when he seeks pardon he dismisses the charge. Thus God sometimes mercifully chastises his elect, and sometimes benignly lightens the guilt of his people at the instance of their prayers. The first point is illustrated at the end of Second Samuel (24:16), when, moved with compassion, God said to the Angel who was smiting his people in Jerusalem: Hold now thy hand. God confers a great grace upon a man when he cleanses him through chastisement, either through sickness or any other tribulation of the heart. It is better to be chastened mercifully by God in the present 221 than to be tortured eternally by the devil in the future. That God does not immediately take vengeance on sinners is the work of his mercy; but that he will finally avenge himself will be divine justice. Secondly, how he lightens the people’s guilt in response to their prayers, the Apostle sets forth in the fourth chapter of Hebrews: Let us come with confidence to the throne of his grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (vs. 16). He says with confidence because a man ought to pray confidently and without hesitation. He says to the throne of grace, meaning to the Virgin Mary, who, since she is the mother of grace and the mother of mercy, is not able to deny mercy to anyone who devotedly prays to her. As Bernard says: “If anyone has known you to be absent in his necessity, Blessed Virgin, let him then keep silent about your compassion.” For it may be as truly said of her as of her Son: Whoever calls upon me, I shall hear him, for I am gracious and merciful (Ex. 22:27).

In the fourth place, the Lord has compassion on us as a master upon his disciple; as in the seventeenth chapter of Luke: The lepers cried out to the Lord Jesus, Master, have pity on us (vs. 13). In two ways the master takes pity on his disciple: he illuminates his mind and comforts him with his affection. Thus God reveals marvelous visions to those who are in his school, and fills them with ineffable consolation. On the first point, we read in the first chapter of Luke, He raised up his child (D. servant) Israel (vs. 54); the raising up is interpreted as the elevation of the mind to heaven, the child as a pure conscience, and Israel as the man of discernment. And it is fitting that a just man, if he wishes to fit himself for the contemplation of God, should have a pure mind in uplifting himself, and God will then make manifest his light. Secondly, it is written in the first chapter of Second Corinthians: Blessed be the God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (vs. 3), and in the forty-ninth chapter of Isaiah: The Lord shall comfort his people and take pity on his poor (vs. 13). The poor are those of the school of Christ who have nothing on earth and await their reward in heaven; as in the sixth chapter of Luke: Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (vs. 20).

II.  When we have beheld the mercy of the Savior, we ought to write it in our hearts. We ought, therefore, to take pity upon one another, just as the physician has compassion upon the sick man, physically 222 visiting him ands spiritually curing him. On the first point, it is written in the nineteenth chapter of Job how the poor and sick cry out: Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, and then, for the hand of the Lord has been laid upon me (vs. 21). When a man is in health, he is like a high-spirited horse which cannot be held without a bridle; but when God touches him with some infirmity, then truly he has compassion on him, for he gives him grace to confess and be penitent and thus makes him worthy to be cure. On the second point, we read in the thirty-sixth chapter of Ecclesiasticus: The beauty of a women cheereth the countenance of her husband and a man desireth nothing more. If she has a tongue of kindness, mildness, and mercy [her husband is not like other men] (vss. 24-25). The interpretation runs: “No bodily delight can compare with that delight” with which Christ rejoices when we visit the sick, if our tongues show mercy in compassion of heart, and meekness in soft speech, and kindness in urging good work. Such men shall hear the Lord say: I was sick, and you visited me (Matt. 25:36); therefore, they are placed with the elect on his right hand.

In the second place, we ought to have compassion upon one another as a mother upon her son, and this in two ways: first, by providing necessities to the needy; and, secondly, by patiently supporting their weakness. As in the fourth chapter of Daniel: Redeem thy sins by almsgiving and thy iniquities by mercy to the poor; perhaps God will pardon thy transgressions (4:27; D. 4:24). It is most fitting that, if the Lord fills our need, we should similarly lighten another’s need. He who needs pity surely ought to pity another. We are full of every sort of wretchedness and therefore we need mercy. For if the works of God’s creation were to take away from us their benefits, for example, if the sun took away its light and heat and the water its moisture, we could not live. Therefore, all created things censure unmerciful men, but: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7). On the second point we read in James: Mercy is exalted above judgment (2:13). We ought to sustain the weakness of others with love and pity, and not pass judgment on it arrogantly and thoughtlessly, for “false justice is disdainful, but true justice is compassionate.”

In the third place, we should have compassion upon one another as a master upon his servant, and this in two ways: by correction, as 223 a precaution against future wrong-doing, and by remission of wrongs with respect to past sin. First, as in the third chapter of Proverbs: Let not mercy and truth depart from thee; bind them about thy neck and write them in the tablets of thy heart, and thou shalt come into good favor with God and men (vss. 3-4). Secondly, as it was written to the Ephesians in the fourth chapter: Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (vs. 32).

In the fourth place, we ought to be compassionate to one another as a master to his disciple, and this in two ways: in counsel and in prayer — counseling, that the works of perfection may be accomplished; praying, that the fruit of consolation may follow. First, as in the eighteenth chapter of Ecclesiasticus: He who has compassion teaches and instructs as a shepherd his sheep (vs. 13). The good shepherd carries the weak lambs in his arms and lets the strong ones run. Thus the merciful man, especially the prelate of the Church, ought compassionately to teach his subordinates, so that he may increase the fruits of their spirits and in the future receive a hundredfold from God. Secondly, Peter says: Be ye all of one mind in prayer, having compassion, loving brotherhood, be merciful . . . (I Pet. 3:8). If, thus, in the present we show mercy to one another, in the future we shall obtain the mercy of God.



1  Here the preacher lapses into the vernacular.


[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]