I. The Story of the Magi Not Only a Byegone Fact in History,
But of Everyday Application to Ourselves.
The day, dearly-beloved, on which Christ the Saviour of the world first
appeared to the nations must be venerated by us with holy worship: and
to-day those joys must be entertained in our hearts which existed in the
breasts of the three magi, when, aroused by the sign and leading of a new
star, which they believed to have been promised, they fell down in presence
of the King of heaven and earth. For that day has not so passed away that
the mighty work, which was then revealed, has passed away with it, and
that nothing but the report of the thing has come down to us for faith
to receive and memory to celebrate; seeing that, by the oft-repeated gift
of God, our times daily enjoy the fruit of what the first age possessed.
And therefore, although the narrative which is read to us from the Gospel1
properly records those days on which the three men, who had neither been
taught by the prophets' predictions nor instructed by the testimony of
the law, came to acknowledge God from the furthest parts of the East, yet
we behold this same thing more clearly and abundantly carried on now in
the enlightenment of all those who are called, since the prophecy of Isaiah
is fulfilled when he says, "the Lord has laid bare His holy arm in the
sight of all the nations, and all the nations upon earth have seen the
salvation which is from the Lord our God ;" and again, "and those to whom
it has not been announced about Him shall see, and they who have not heard,
shall understand2 ." Hence when we see men devoted to worldly wisdom and
far from belief in Jesus Christ brought out of the depth of their error
and called to an acknowledgment of the true Light, it is undoubtedly the
brightness of the Divine grace that is at work: and whatever of new light
illumines the darkness of their hearts, comes from the rays of the same
star: so that it should both move with wonder, and going before lead to
the adoration of God the minds which it visited with its splendour. But
if with careful thought we wish to see how their threefold kind of gift
is also offered by all who come to Christ with the foot of faith, is not
the same offering repeated in the hearts of true believers? For he that
acknowledges Christ the King of the universe brings gold from the treasure
of his heart: he that believes the Only-begotten of God to have united
man's true nature to Himself, offers myrrh; and he that confesses Him in
no wise inferior to the Father's majesty, worships Him in a manner with
II. Satan Still Carries on the Wiles of Herod, And, as It Were, Personates
Him in His Opposition to Christ.
These comparisons, dearly-beloved, being thoughtfully considered, we
find Herod's character also not to be wanting, of which the devil himself
is now an unwearied imitator, just as he was then a secret instigator.
For he is tortured at the calling of all the nations, and racked at the
daily destruction of his power, grieving at his being everywhere deserted,
and the true King adored in all places. He prepares devices, he hatches
plots, he bursts out into murders, and that he may make use of the remnants
of those whom he still deceives, is consumed with envy in the persons of
the Jews, lies treacherously in wait in the persons of heretics, blazes
out into cruelty in the persons of the heathen. For he sees that the power
of the eternal King is invincible Whose death has extinguished the power
of death itself; and therefore he has armed himself with all his skill
of injury against those who serve the true King; hardening some by the
pride that knowledge of the law engenders, debasing others by the lies
of false belief, and inciting others to the madness of persecution. Yet
the madness of this "Herod" is vanquished, and brought to nought by Him
who has crowned even infants with the glory of martyrdom, and has endued
His faithful ones with so unconquerable a love that in the Apostle's words
they dare to say, "who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall
tribulation, or want, or persecution, Or hunger, or nakedness, or peril,
or the sword? as it is written, For thy sake are we killed all the day
long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. But in all these things
we overcome on account of Him who loved us3 ."
III. The Cessation of Active Persecution Does Not Do Away with the
Need of Continued Vigilance : Satan Has Only Changed His Tactics.
Such courage as this, dearly-beloved, we do not believe to have been
needful only at those times in which the kings of the world and all the
powers of the age were raging against God's people in an outburst of wickedness,
thinking it to redound to their greatest glory if they removed the Christian
name from the earth, but not knowing that God's Church grows through the
frenzy of their cruelty, since in the tortures and deaths of the martyrs,
those whose number was reckoned to be diminished were augmented through
the force of example4 . In fine, so much strength has our Faith gained
by the attacks of persecutors that royal princedoms have no greater ornament
than that the lords of the world are members of Christ; and their boast
is not so much that they were born in the purple as that they have been
re-born in baptism. But because the stress of former blasts has lulled,
and with a cessation of fightings a measure of tranquillity has long seemed
to smile upon us, those divergences are carefully to be guarded against
which arise from the very reign of peace. For the adversary having been
proved ineffective in open persecutions now exercises a hidden skill in
doing cruel hurt, in order to overthrow by the stumbling-block of pleasure
those whom he could not strike with the blow of affliction. And so seeing
the faith of princes opposed to him and the indivisible Trinity of the
one Godhead as devoutly worshipped in palaces as in churches, he grieves
at the shedding of Christian blood being forbidden, and attacks the mode
of life of those whose death he cannot compass. The terror of confiscations
he changes into the fire of avarice, and corrupts with covetousness those
whose spirit he could not break by losses. For the malicious haughtiness
which long use has ingrained into his very nature has not laid aside its
hatred, but changed its character in order to subjugate the minds of the
faithful by blandishments. He inflames those with covetous desires whom
he cannot distress with tortures: he sows strifes, kindles passions, sets
tongues a-wagging, and, lest more cautious hearts should draw back from
his lawless wiles, facilitates opportunities for accomplishing crimes:
because this is the only fruit of all his devices that he who is not worshipped
with the sacrifice of cattle and goats, and the burning of incense, should
be paid the homage of divers wicked deeds5 .
IV. Timely Repentance Gains God's Merciful Consideration.
Our state of peace6 , therefore, dearly-beloved, has its dangers, and
it is vain for those who do not withstand vicious desires to feel secure
of the liberty which is the privilege of their Faith. Men's hearts are
shown by the character of their works, and the fashion of their minds is
betrayed by the nature of their actions. For there are some, as the Apostle
says, "who profess that they know God, but deny Him by their deeds7 ."
For the charge of denial is truly incurred when the good which is heard
in the sound of the voice is not present in the conscience. Indeed, the
frailty of man's nature easily glides into faults: and because no sin is
without its attractiveness, deceptive pleasure is quickly acquiesced in.
But we should run for spiritual succour from the desires of the flesh:
and the mind that has knowledge of its God should turn away from the evil
suggestion of the enemy. Avail thyself of the long-suffering of God, and
persist not in cherishing thy sin, because its punishment is put off. The
sinner must not feel secure of his impunity, because if he loses the time
for repentance he will find no place for mercy, as the prophet says, "in
death no one remembers thee; and in the realms below who will confess to
thee8 ?" But let him who experiences the difficulty of self-amendment and
restoration betake himself to the mercy of a befriending God, and ask that
the chains of evil habit may be broken off by Him "who lifts up those that
fall and raises all the crushed9 ." The prayer of one that confesses will
not be in vain since the merciful God "will grant the desire of those that
fear Him10 ," and will give what is asked, as He gave the Source from Which
to ask. Through our Lend Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth with the
Father and the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Narratio evangeticoe lectionis. This, according to
Bright's n. 46 (q.v.) "refers to the reading of passages of Scripture by
the Lector as a part of the church service."
2 Is. lii. 10,15.
3 Rom. viii. 35.
4 Cf. Tertullian's famous boast in his Apologeticus (chap.
1., 76), semen est Christianorum sanquis, and Leo's own words again, Serm.
LXXXII. 6, non minuitur persecutionibus ecclesia sed augetur.
5 The warning of this chapter is insisted on not only
by Leo himself often elsewhere (see references in Bright's note 51), but,
among others doubtless, by Cyprian in more than one passage esp. in De
Lapsis, where he accuses even the clergy of worldliness in the strongest
6 Cf. Cypr. de lapsis v. traditam nobis divinitus disciplinam
pax longa corruperat.
7 Titus i. 16.
8 Ps. vi. 6.
9 Ib. cxlv. 14,19.
10 Ib. cxlv. 14,19.