Early Church Fathers
Sermon LXII. [XCII. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Luke xiv. 16, "A certain man made a great supper," etc.Delivered in the basilica Restituta.1
1. Holy lessons have been set forth before us, to which we should both give ear, and upon which by the Lord's help I would deliver some observations. In the Apostolic lesson thanks are rendered unto the Lord for the faith of the Gentiles, of course, because it was His work. In the Psalm we have said, "O God of hosts, turn us, and show us Thy Face, and we shall be saved."2 In the Gospel we have been called to a supper; yea, rather others have been called, we not called, but led; not only led, but even forced. For so have we heard, that "a certain Man made a great supper."3 Who is this Man, but "the Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus"?4 He sent that those who had been invited might come, for the hour was now come, that they should come. Who are they who had been invited, but those who had been called by the Prophets who were sent before? When? Of old, ever since the Prophets were sent, they invited to Christ's supper. They were sent then to the people of Israel. Often were they sent, often did they call men, to come at the hour of supper. But they received those who invited them, refused the supper. What means "they received those who invited them, refused the supper"? They read the Prophets and killed Christ. But when they killed Him, then though they knew it not, they prepared a Supper for us. When the Supper was now prepared, when Christ had been offered up, when the Supper of the Lord, which the faithful know, had been set forth after the resurrection of Christ, and established by His Hands and Mouth, were the Apostles sent to them, to whom the Prophets had been sent before. "Come ye to the supper."
2. They who would not come made excuses. And how did they excuse themselves? There were three excuses: "One said, I have bought a farm,5 and I go to see it; have me excused. Another said, I have bought five pairs of oxen, and I go to prove them; I pray thee have me excused. A third said, I have married a wife, have me excused; I cannot come."6 Do we suppose that these are not the excuses, which hinder all men, who decline to come to this supper? Let us look into them, discuss, find them out; but only that we may beware. In the purchase of the farm, the spirit of domination is marked out; therefore pride is rebuked. For men are delighted to have a farm, to hold, to possess it, to have men in it under them, to have dominion. An evil vice, the first vice. For the first man wished to have dominion, in that he would not that any should have dominion over him. What is to have dominion, but to take pleasure in one's own power? There is a greater power, let us submit ourselves to it, that we may be able to be safe. "I have bought a farm, have me excused." Having discovered pride, he would not come.
3. "Another said, I have bought five pairs of oxen." Would it not have been enough, have bought oxen"? Something beyond doubt there is, which by its very obscurity challenges us to seek out, and understand; and in that it is shut, He exhorteth us to knock. The five pairs of oxen are the senses of this body. There are numbered five senses of this body, as is known to all; and they who, it may be, do not consider it, will doubtless perceive it on being reminded of it. There are then found to be five senses of this body. In the eyes is the sight, the hearing in the ears, the smell in the nose, the taste in the mouth, the touch in all the members. We have perception of white and black, and things coloured in whatever way, light and dark, by the sight. Harsh and musical sounds, we have perception of by the hearing. Of sweet and offensive smells, we have perception by the smell. Of things sweet and bitter by the taste. Of things hard and soft, smooth and rough, warm and cold, heavy and light, by the touch. They are five, and they are pairs. Now that they are pairs, is seen most easily in the case of the three first senses. There are two eyes, two ears, two nostrils; see three pairs. In the mouth, that is in the sense of taste, a certain doubling is found, because nothing affects the taste, unless it is touched by the tongue and the palate. The pleasure of the flesh which pertains to the touch, has this doubling in a less obvious way. For there is both an outer and an inner touch. And so it too is double. Why are they called pairs of oxen? Because by these senses of the body, earthly things are sought for. For oxen turn up the earth. So there are men far off from faith, given up to earthly things, occupied in the things of the flesh; who will not believe anything but what they attain to by the five senses of their body. In those five senses do they lay down for themselves the rules of their whole will. "I will not believe," says one, "anything but what I see. See, here is what I know, and am sure of Such a thing is white, or black, or round, or square, or coloured so and so; this I know, am sensible of, have a hold of; nature itself teaches it me. I am not forced to believe what you cannot show me. Or it is a voice: I perceive that it is a voice; it sings well, it sings ill, it is sweet, it is harsh. I know, I know this, it has come to me. There is a good or a bad smell: I know, I perceive it. This is sweet, this is bitter; this is salt, this insipid. I know not what you would tell me more. By the touch I know what is hard, what is soft; what is smooth, what is rough; what is warm, and what cold. What more would you show me?"
4. By such an impediment was our ApostleThomas held back, who as to the Lord Christ, the resurrection that is of Christ, would not believe even his own eyes only. "Unless," says he, "I put my fingers into the places of the nails and wounds, and unless I put my hand into His side, I will not believe."7 And the Lord who could have risen again without any vestige of a wound, kept the scars, that they might be touched by the doubting Apostle, and the wounds of his heart be healed. And yet as designing to call to His supper others, against the excuse of "the five pairs of oxen," He said, "Blessed they who do not see, and believe."8 We, my Brethren, who have been called to this supper, have not been kept back by "these five pairs." For we have not in this age desired to see the Face of the Lord's Body, nor have we longed to hear the Voice proceeding oat of the mouth of that Body; we have not sought in Him for any passing9 odour. A certain "woman anointed Him with most costly ointment," that "house was filled with the odour;"10 but we were not there; lo, we did not smell, yet we believe. He gave to the disciples the Supper consecrated by His Own Hands; but we did not sit clown at that Feast, and yet we daily eat this same Supper by faith. And do not think it strange that in that supper which He gave with His Own Hand, one was present without faith: the faith that appeared, afterwards was more than a compensation for that faithlessness then. Paul was not there who believed, Judas was there who betrayed. How many now too in this same Supper, though they saw not then that table, nor beheld with their eyes, nor tasted with their mouths, the bread which the Lord took in His Hands, yet because it is the same as is now prepared, how many now also in this same Supper, "eat and drink judgment to themselves "?11
5. But whence arose an occasion, so to say, to the Lord, to speak of this supper? One of them that sat at meat with Him (for He was at a feast, whither He had been invited), had said, "Blessed are they who eat bread in the kingdom of God."12 He sighed as though after distant things, and the Bread Himself was sitting down before him. Who is the Bread of the kingdom of God, but He who saith, "I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven "?13 Do not get thy mouth ready, but thine heart. On this occasion it was that the parable of this supper was set forth. Lo, we believe in Christ,we receive Him with faith. In receiving Him weknow what to think of. We receive but little,and we are nourished in heart. It is not then what is seen, but what is believed, that feeds us.Therefore we too have not sought for that outward sense; nor have we said, "Let them believe who have seen with their eyes, and handled with their hands the Lord Himself after His resurrection, if what is said be true; we do not touch Him, why should we believe?" If we were to entertain such thoughts, we should be kept back from the supper by those "five pairs of oxen." That ye may know, Brethren, that not the gratification of these five senses, which softens and ministers pleasure, but a kind of curiosity was denoted, He did not say, "`I have bought five pairs of oxen,' and I go to feed them;" but, "I go to prove them." He who wishes to "prove "by "the pairs of oxen," does not wish to be in doubt, just as St. Thomas by these "pairs" did not wish to be in doubt. "Let me see, let me touch, let me put in my fingers." "`Behold,' saith the Lord, `put in thy fingers along My Side, and be not unbelieving.'14 For thy sake have I been slain; at the place which thou wishest to touch, have I shed My Blood, that I might redeem thee; and dost thou still doubt of Me, unless thou touch Me? Behold, this too I grant; behold, this too I show thee; touch, and believe; find out the place of My wound, heal the wound of thy doubting."
6. "The third said, I have married a wife." This is the pleasure of the flesh, which is a hindrance to many: and I would that it were so only without, and not within! There are men who say, "There is no happiness for a man, if he have not the pleasures of the flesh." These are they whom the Apostle censures, saying, "`Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.'15 Who hath risen to this life from the other? Who hath ever told us what goes on there? We take away with us, what in the time present makes our happiness." He that speaks thus, "has married a wife," attaches himself to the flesh, places his delight in the pleasures of the flesh, excuses himself from the supper; let him look well to it that he die not by an inward famine. Attend to John, the holy Apostle and Evangelist; "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."16 O ye who come to the Supper of the Lord, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." He did not say, "Have not;" but, "Love not."Thou hast had, possessed, loved. The love of earthly things, is the bird-lime of the spirit's wings. Lo, thou hast desired, thou hast stuck fast. "Who will give thee wings as of a dove?"17 When wilt thou fly, whither thou mayest in deed, seeing thou hast perversely wished to rest here, where thou hast to thy hurt stuck fast? "Love not the world," is the divine trumpet. By the voice of this trumpet unceasingly is it proclaimed to the compass of the earth, and to the whole world, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. Whosoever loveth the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the ambition of life."18 He begins at the last with which the Gospel ends. He begins at that, at which the Gospel made an end. "The lust of the flesh, I have married a wife. The lust of the eyes, I have bought five pairs of oxen. The ambition of life, I have bought a farm."
7. Now these senses are denoted by the mention of the eyes only, the whole by a part, because the pre-eminence in the five senses belongs to the eyes. Wherefore though sight belongs peculiarly to the eyes, we are accustomed to use the word "seeing" through all the five senses. How? In the first place, in relation to the eyes themselves we say; "See how white it is, look and see how white it is:" this has relation to the eyes. Hear and see how musical it is! Could we say conversely, "Hear and see how white it is "? This expression, "see," runs through all the senses; whereas the distinguishing expression19 of the other senses does not in its turn run through it. "Mark and see how musical; smell and see how agreeable it is; taste and see how sweet it is; touch and see how soft it is." And yet surely since they are senses, we should rather say thus; "Hear and be sensible how musical it is; smell and be sensible how agreeable it is; taste and be sensible how sweet it is; touch and be sensible how hot it is; handle and be sensible how smooth it is; handle and be sensible how soft it is." But we say none of these. For thus the Lord Himself after His resurrection when He appeared to His disciples, and when though they saw Him they still wavered in faith supposing that they saw a spirit, said, "Why do ye doubt, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? See My Hands and My Feet." It is not enough to say, "See;" He saith, "Touch, and handle, and see."20 "Look and see, handle and see; with the eyes alone see, and see by all the senses." Because He was looking for the inner sense of faith, He offered Himself to the outward senses of the body. We have made no attainment21 in the Lord by these outward senses, we have heard with our ears, have believed with our heart; and this hearing not from His mouth, but from the mouth of His preachers, from their mouths who were already at the supper, and who by the pouring forth of what they there drunk in invited us.
8. Let us away then with vain and evil excuses, and come we to the supper by which we may be made fat within. Let not the puffing up of pride keep us back, let it not lift us up, nor unlawful curiosity scare us, and turn us away from God; let not the pleasure of the flesh hinderus from the pleasure of the heart. Let us come, and be filled. And who came but the beggars, the "maimed," the "halt," the "blind"? But there came not thither the rich, and the whole, who walked, as they thought, well, and saw acutely; who had great confidence in themselves, and were therefore in the more desperate case, in proportion as they were more proud. Let the beggars come, for He inviteth them, "who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we beggars through His poverty might be enriched."22 Let the maimed come, "for they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are in evil case."23 Let the halt come who may say to Him, "Set in order my steps in Thy paths."24 Let the blind come who may say, "Enlighten mine eyes, that I may never sleep in death."25 Such as these came at the hour, when those who had been first invited, had been rejected for their own excuses: they came at the hour, they entered in from the streets and lanes of the city. And the servant "who had been sent," brought answer, "Lord, it is done as Thou hast commanded, and yet there is room." "Go out," saith He," into the highways and hedges, and compel those whom thou shall find to come in."26 Whom thou shall find wait not till they choose to come, compel them to come in. I have prepared a great supper, a great house, I cannot suffer any place to be vacant in it. The Gentiles came from the streets and lanes: let the heretics come from the hedges, here they shall find peace. For those who make hedges, their object is to make divisions. Let them be drawn away from the hedges, let them be plucked up from among the thorns. They have stuck fast in the hedges, they are unwilling to be compelled.27 Let us come in, they says of our own good will. This is not the Lord's order, "Compel them," saith he, "to come in." Let compulsion be found outside, the will arise within.