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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. 198-204.

(c. 1180-1260)


THIS Englishman studied and taught at several universities, including Oxford, Paris, and Montpellier. He attained fame as a professor of both medicine and theology. He enjoyed a versatile career as a physician, being at one time in the service of Phillip Augustus; and excelled as a theologian, coming to the assistance of Robert Grosseteste during the latter’s episcopacy. His entrance into the Dominican order in 1230 did not estop his varied professional activities. The following sermon, based upon the text of Davy Sup. 283-98 and translated by Miss Dorothy Ann Freeman, was preached before the University of Paris in 1231. It places his erudition within a typically scholastic framework.



BE YE MERCIFUL. . . . (A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost)

THEME: Be ye merciful as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36)

PROTHEME: The merciful man deals well with his soul (Prov, 11:17)


Part I: Be ye merciful

     1.  Therefore a.  Judge not.

                             b.  Condemn not.

                             c.  Forgive faults.

                             d.  Give spiritual goods.

                             e.  Give temporal goods.

     2.  One must be merciful toward himself by leaving the world.

Part II: God gives us the example of mercy.

         a.  He gives us his deity through Jesus Christ.

         b.  He entrusts us to angels.

         c.  He gives us the world.

         d.  He has created us in his image.

         e.  He makes us to participate in an eternal heritage.

Part III: In return, we owe to God:

         a.  The giving of ourselves.

         b.  The giving of our goods to the poor.

         c.  To serve God and our neighbor.

         d.  To seek the knowledge and the wisdom of God.

         e.  To work toward our eternal happiness.

CONCLUSION: Jesus asks us to work in his vineyard. If our life is good, he will be merciful to us.

(Theme and Explanation.)  It is written in the sixth chapter of Luke: Be ye merciful as your Father is merciful (vs. 36). Then the Lord touched upon four opposites of mercy, that we may avoid them. The first is: Judge not (vs. 37), and is directed against slanderers who destroy men with the sword of evil speaking. The second is: Condemn not (ibid.). This is directed especially against those of the clergy who condemn the innocent, against whom it is written in Exodus: An innocent and just man thou shalt not kill . . . (23:7). By their bad example in accumulating prebends, seeking inheritances, 200 planting vineyards, and acquiring riches and honors, they corrupt and condemn the little ones, that is, the laity. This directly contradicts compassion, whose property it is to scatter freely and not to amass. Furthermore there are those so severe that when they discover a man in mortal sin, they immediately condemn him. Thus they exclude everyone from the way of penitence. In opposition to this Augustine said: “No one ought to be despaired of while yet he lives.” Such men, with David, by the sword of the sons of Ammon, which signifies the riotous mob, slew Uriah, who represents the light of the Lord. The third is: Forgive . . . (Luke 6:37), that is, forgive the faults, penalties, conflicts, hate, pride, and everything of whatever sort they do not wish to forgive. They are like the devil, of whom it is said: He is cruel and he will not have mercy, even though the Lord says: I do not say to you seven, but seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22). They do not wish to release those they have imprisoned, even though it says in the Paralipomenon:1 Let the oppressed go free (Isa. 58:6). For even if he is a poor man, he keeps his own prisoners. Thus in Job: And if they are in chains, and bound in the cords of poverty, Thou showest them their works, that they have been guilty of violence (36:8-9). The fourth injunction is: Give . . . (Luke 6:39), that is, give both spiritual and temporal things. But we, gladly giving spiritual things, reserve for ourselves the temporal things, and give nothing to others. And likewise nothing shall be given to us, just as not even a drop of water was given to the rich man in the fifteenth chapter of Luke.2 Therefore, it happens that he who is unmerciful and cruel wrongs himself before he wrongs others. But those who claim that they are merciful, our preachers and teachers who say that they preach and teach because of their zeal for souls and so are merciful in their own eyes, these, nevertheless, are unwilling to show mercy to their own souls, although we read in Proverbs: The merciful man deals well with his own soul (11:17).

(Protheme.)  It is written in the Second Epistle to Timothy: It is fitting that the farmer who labors should be the first to partake of the fruits . . . (2:6); likewise in Ecclesiasticus: Have pity on thy own soul, pleasing God (30:24).

(Exposition.)  The same apostles make the statement: I am rich and 201 made wealthy and have need of nothing (Rev. 3:17), as if to say: I am without sin. But contrarily John says: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (I John 1:8). And this is because, as it says in Ecclesiasticus: He shall discern (D. choose) every plague, but not the plague of the soul (25:18). In the book of Wisdom it is written: He pleased God and was beloved (4:10). Living among sinners he was translated, that is to say, from the world to the cloister, because it is perilous to dwell among sinners. “Who can steal away fire in his breast, without setting his clothing afire?” Obviously, no one. Likewise in Ecclesiasticus: He that toucheth pitch is defiled with it (13:1), and Confession of faith (D praise) perishes from [is impossible to] the dead as if they were nothing (17:26). By living [in the world] you confess yourself to possess less discernment than by entering the cloister. But someone will say: “It is easier to remain in the world than to enter the cloister.” Yet it is written of Lot in Genesis: For Lot abode in the mountain (19:30), by which is signified the cloister, and we do not read that he remained in Sodom, which signifies the world. Further, we can answer that if he had remained there, he would have been consumed. The angel particularly commanded Lot to depart from Sodom: but you, contrary to the angel’s instruction, wish to remain in the world. Beware, therefore, lest you perish there with the Sodomites, that is, sinners. But have compassion upon yourselves and depart from the world. For this reason we read: Be ye merciful, both to yourselves and others, as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). To do this signifies, not identification with him, but imitation of him.

(Part I)  The Lord has compassion upon us in five benefits which he has conferred upon us.

(Consideration I.)  The first is the truest and highest benefit, namely, that he bestowed upon us his divinity, and that is his Son, the price of our redemption. And, in consequence, he conferred upon us the heavenly kingdom. Thus it was written to the Romans: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him for us all, has he not also with him given us all things (8:32)? That is to say: Certainly he has.

(Consideration 2.)  The second benefit is that he has given us the world. As in First Corinthians: All things are yours . . . (3:21; D, 3:22). But some one might say that this world is the devil’s according to that statement: The prince of this world has come and in me 202 he has nothing (John 14:30). And again: Now the prince of this world shall be cast out (12:31). To this we answer that there are three things in the world — nature, corruption, and utility. Nature is of God, corruption of the devil, and utility belongs to man. As a certain saint says: “That we live in the world, this is of God; but that we sin, that is of the devil.” Also Augustine says; “The sun serves Him, and the moon, and the sea, and the earth, and wherefore do I not serve Him?” We are all debtors of God, awaiting the payment of the price of recompense. For the Apostle says: The creature itself shall be freed from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:21). The sun and the moon await the price of their servitude: The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun (Isa. 30:26). Likewise the sea does service, about which it was said: Here shall your swelling waves be stayed (Job 38:11). And also the earth serves: Let the earth bring forth green grass (Gen. 1:11). When we, therefore, are unwilling to serve, we wrong the elements.

(Consideration 3.)  The third benefit is that he has given angels to watch over us, as in the Epistle to the Hebrews: Firstly they are all ministering spirits . . . (1:14).

(Consideration 4.)  The fourth is that he has made us in his image, as it is stated in Genesis, and this applies especially to those of the clergy who have a greater knowledge of him, and in proportion a higher obligation to serve him, because a servant who knows the will of his lord and does not do it will be severely chastised.

(Consideration 5.)  The fifth is that he has given us an eternal heritage, bestowing upon us hope of it in the present and its reality in the future. Therefore no one need despair as did Cain: My sin is greater . . . (Gen. 4:13).

(Confirmation 1.)  To the first benefit the martyrs testify, having given themselves to suffer for Christ. (Confirmation 2.) To the second, the people of the early Church, who, having sold everything, laid all that they had at the feet of the apostles. (Confirmation 3.) to the third, Abraham and Lot testify, who, having offered hospitality, ministered to angels and angelic men (Gen. 18:16); as in I Peter: If anyone ministers, it is as if by the strength which God imparts (4:11). (Confirmation 4.) To the fourth, the hermits testify who continually contemplate the Lord; as the Apostle said: I have 203 determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Cor. 2:2). (Confirmation 5.) To the fifth, the men of sanctity are witnesses, who diligently cultivate their eternal heritage; as in Proverbs: Diligently till thy ground . . . (24:27).

(Part II)  Similarly we, having received these benefits, now ought to make return. First, in that we should give to God, not only our alms and goods, but ourselves; as in Genesis: The Lord had respect to Abel, that is, first, and to his gifts, afterward (4:4); likewise the Apostle: I do not seek the things that are yours, but you (II Cor. 12:14). Thus of those who give themselves in part to the Lord, Hosea says: Their heart is divided; now they shall perish (10:2). For even if you give yourself whole to God, you are not worthy of him; as in Tobias (A. V. Tobit): If I give myself to be a servant, I am not worthy of thy providence (9:2).

(Consideration 2.)  For the second benefit, we ought to make return by expending our worldly wealth for the poor; as in Luke: Give and it shall be given to you (6:38). For this reason James says: Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust shall bear witness against you, and it shall eat away your flesh (5:3). Because of this, it is a good thing to give your possessions for the poor. Thus the Apostle: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ . . . (I Cor. 4:1). Otherwise God would require of us the talent entrusted to us and cast us into outer darkness.

(Consideration 3.)  For the third we ought to make return by doing service to God and to his own; as in the Gospel: I was in prison and you came to me; I was sick and you visited me (Matt. 25:36). But often a man, being a nobleman, is unwilling to visit the sick, saying with the devil in Ezekiel: I have made myself (29:3). Let such a one listen to the saying of Job: I have addressed corruption . . . (17:14), and I have been eyes to the blind (29:15), and likewise to the Lord in the Gospel: If you have done this to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me (Matt. 25:40).

(Consideration 4.)  For the fourth we should make return, in order to obtain the benefit of the wisdom and knowledge of God. He who loves God is known by him . . . (cf. I John 5:2). We ought not, therefore, to be overwhelmed by present things nor by the love of mortal friends. For if I do not go away [the Paraclete will not come to you] . . . (John 16:7).


(Consideration 5)  In return for the fifth, we should strive toward our eternal heritage, even though Solomon says in contradiction: A man has nothing more under the sun except that he eats and drinks (Eccles. 8:15). For all the labor of a man is in God’s sight. On this account the Lord said to the idle ones: You also come into my vineyard (Matt. 20:4).

(Conclusion)  On account of all these things, therefore, we ought to be merciful, leading a life that is worthy of God.



1  Books of Chronicles in the A.V. and R.V.

2  The parable of the rich man and Lazarus.


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