1. We have here to ask, dearest brethren, why John a prophet,
and now more than a prophet, who had testified to the Lord as He came to
the baptism of the Jordan, saying: Behold the Iamb of God, behold Him
who taketh away the sins of the world (Jn. i. 29); and who regarding
both His humility and the power of His divinity, declared: He that is
of the earth, of the earth he speaketh. He that cometh from Heaven, is
above all (Jn. iii. 31), now in prison, sending his disciples, enquired:
Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another?
As if he knew not Him whom he himself had pointed out; as if he now
were ignorant of Him Whom he had himself proclaimed by prophesying concerning
Him, by baptizing Him, by pointing Him out to others. But this question
is quickly solved if both the time and the order of the event be considered.
By the waters of the Jordan he had asserted that He was the Redeemer of
the world; now, thrown into prison, he enquires if He is to come, not because
he doubts that He is the Redeemer of the world, but he seeks to learn whether
He Who, of His own will, came into the world, will also, of His own will,
descend into hell? He who, by going before Him, had announced Him to the
world, the same, now dying, goes down before Him into hell.
He says therefore: Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another?
As if to say: since for men Thou hast deigned to be born, will You
also deign for men to undergo death so that I who have been the Precursor
of Thy Birth, may also become the Precursor of Thy Death: to announce Thee
as about to descend into hell, as already I have announced Thee as come
into this world? And the Lord being thus asked, having first given
manifest proofs of His power forthwith answers in words that foreshadow
also the abjection of His own death; saying: The blind see, the lame
walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the
poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he that shall not
be scandalised in me.
Who could not be astonished rather than scandalised at the sight of
so many signs and wonders? But the mind of the unbelieving suffered grievous
scandal in Him, when after so many miracles they saw Him dying. Whence
Paul has said: We preach Christ Crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling
block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness (I Cor. i. 23). For to men
it did indeed seem foolish, that the Author of life should die for men:
and so man has taken scandal at Him, whence he ought rather to become yet
more His debtor. For the more He has borne indignities for men, the more
fittingly is God to be honoured of men.
What then does He mean by the words: Blessed is he that shall not
be scandalised in me, if not to signify clearly the abjection and lowliness
of His own death? As if He were openly to say: I indeed work wonders, but
I disdain not to endure humiliations. Because, however, I shall go thy
way to death, men must take care not to despise Me in death, who now honour
Me because of these wonders.
2. The disciples of John going their way, let us hear what He says to
the multitude concerning the same John. What went you out into the desert
to see? A reed shaken by the wind? Here He reproves them, not by asserting,
but by denying something. Scarcely does the breath of a breeze touch a
reed, when it bends the other way. And what is here meant by a reed unless
a worldly human soul? Which, as soon as it is touched either by praise,
or by detraction, is immediately inclined whatsoever way you will.
For if the wind of acclaim from a human mouth should caress it, it rejoices,
it is lifted up, and bends itself over in gratitude. But should the wind
of detraction blow from whence has already come the breath of praise, it
immediately bends again the other way, yielding to the force of the storm.
But John was no reed shaken by the wind, for he was neither flattered by
praise, nor angered by detraction. Neither did prosperity uplift him, nor
adversity cast him down. A reed shaken by the wind John was not, but a
man whom no change of circumstances would turn aside from his path. Let
us also learn, my dearest Brethren, not to be as reeds, shaken by the winds.
Let us keep firm of soul amid the varying winds of mensí tongues; let our
minds be steadfast. Neither let detraction provoke us to anger; and let
no favour move us to bestow some harmful gift. Let good fortune not exalt
us, nor adversity cause us unrest of soul, so that anchored to the security
of faith, we may in no way be moved by the insecurity of temporal things.
3. Our Saviour continues to praise Johnís austerity: But what went
you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed
in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. John is described as
being clothed in a garment of camel hair. And what means, behold they that
are clothed in soft garments are in the houses of kings, unless that he
openly makes it plain that they fight not for a heavenly but for an earthly
kingdom, who in Godís service ever shun what is painful, give themselves
over solely to outward things, and seek the soft things and the delights
of this life.
Let no one believe that sin can ever be absent from soft living. and
from the love of precious clothing. Because if there were no fault in it,
Our Lord would scarcely have praised John for the austerity of his clothing.
If there were no fault, neither would the Apostle Peter have reproved women
in his Epistle for this very desire for precious garments, saying: not
in costly attire (I Pet. iii. 2; I Tim. ii. 9). Consider then, what
fault there may be should men also seek for the things from which the Pastor
of the church has said that even women should abstain.
4. That John is said not to be clothed in soft garments can be interpreted
in yet another way. He was not clothed in soft garments, because he did
not condone with flattery the conduct of those who lived in sin, but rather
upbraided them in bitter words, saying: Ye brood of vipers who hath
showed you to flee from the wrath to come? (Lk. iii. 7.) Whence Solomon
also has said: The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails deeply
fastened in (Eccles. xii. 11). The words of the wise are compared to
nails, and likewise to goads, because they do not caress, but pierce the
follies of sinners.
5. But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea, I tell you and more
than a prophet. It is the prophetís office to foretell future events,
not also to point them out. For this reason John was more than a prophet,
because Him, of Whom he had prophesied, going before Him, he also pointed
out, showing Him to his own disciples. Since it is denied that he is a
reed shaken by the wind, since he is said not to be clothed in soft garments,
since the name of prophet is inadequate to him, let us hear what then may
fittingly be affirmed of him.
6. It follows on: This is he of whom it is written: Behold I send
my Angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee (Mal.
iii. i). That which is called angelus in Greek, is in Latin messenger
(nuntius). Fittingly therefore is he called Angel, who is sent to
announce the Heavenly Judge; so that he may be in name that which he fulfils
in his office. Exalted indeed is his name; but his life was no less exalted
than his name.
7. Would, my dear Brethren, that we say not this to our own condemnation,
namely: that all who are called by the name of priest, are also named as
angels, as the prophet testifies; saying: For the lips of the priest
shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth: because
he is the angel of the Lord of hosts (Mal. ii. 7).
You likewise can reach to the sublimity of this name, if you so wish.
For each one among you, in as far as he is able, in as far as he responds
to the grace of the heavenly invitation, should he recall his neighbour
from evildoing; should he seek to encourage him in doing what is good;
when he reminds him of the eternal kingdom, or of the punishment of wrong-doers;
whenever he employs words of holy import, he is indeed an angel. And let
no one say: I am not capable of giving warning; I am not a fit person to
exhort others. Do what you can, lest your single talent, unprofitably employed,
be required of you with punishment. For he that had received no more than
one talent was careful to bury it in the earth, rather than put it to profit.
We read that in the Tabernacle of God there were not alone golden drinking
goblets but, at the command of the Lord, there also were made ladles, or
spoons, for filling the drinking vessels. For the goblets here understand
fulness of holy doctrine, for the ladles a small and restricted acquaintance
with doctrine. One person being filled with the doctrine of sacred truth,
inebriates the minds of those that hear him. Through what he says he perfectly
fills the cup. Another knows that he cannot give fulness, but because he
gives warnings as best he can, he truly offers a taste from his ladle!
You, therefore, who live in the Tabernacle of the Lord, that is, in
the Holy Church, if you cannot fill up the goblets with the teachings of
holy wisdom, as well then as you can, as far as the divine bounty has endowed
you, give to your neighbours spoonfuls of the good word!
And when you consider that you have yourself made some little progress,
draw others along with you; seek to make comrades on the road to God. Should
one among you, Brethren, stroll out towards the forum or the baths, he
will invite a friend whom he thinks is not busy to keep him company. This
simple action of our ordinary life is pleasant to you, and if it be that
you are going towards God, give a thought not to journey alone. Hence it
is written: He that heareth, let him say: come (Apoc. xxii. 17);
so let him who heard in his heart the invitation of divine love, pass on
to his neighbours around about him, the message of the invitation. And
though a man may not have even bread wherewith to give an alms to the hungry;
yet, what is still more precious, he is able to give who possesses but
a tongue. For it is a greater thing to strengthen with the nourishment
of a word that will feed the mind for ever, than to fill with earthly bread
a stomach of perishable flesh.
Do not, my dearest Brethren, withhold from your brother the charity
of a word. I admonish myself with you, that we abstain from every idle
word, that we turn away from useless chatter. In as far as you are able
to overcome the tongue, scatter not your words to the wind, since our Judge
has said: Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an
account for it in the day of judgment. (Mt. xii. 36.)
An idle word is one that is spoken without any profit in uprightness,
or that is uttered without grounds of sufficient need. Direct your idle
conversation towards a fondness for what will edify; think how quickly
the days of your life are passing; recall how stern is the Judge Who is
coming. Keep this counsel before the eyes of your soul; bring it to mind
of your neighbour, so that, as far as in you lies, you may not fail to
warn him, and so you also may with John, merit to be called angels, by
Him Who liveth and reigneth world without end, Amen.