Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

October 23, 2021, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Opinion

From time to time I hope to post various random thoughts on philosophical or theological topics. This post begins a train of thought on what it is to be human.

1] All living organisms eventually  die.

2] Species survive because individual organisms reproduce, thus replacing themselves.

3]”Evolution” is the name given to the process whereby, over time, species adapt to changing environments, either a) because the environment itself changes, or b) because the species is extending its own range.

4] Human beings are a species of mammal, a kind of animal which reproduces sexually (as do species in other genera).

5] For sexual reproduction, a species is divided into two populations, designated “male” and “female”.

6] While a male is necessary to initiate the process of reproduction, in mammals the new offspring is initially developed within the body of the female, and after birth is nourished for a time with a secretion from the female – “milk”.

7] We sufficiently understand the terms “father”, “mother”, “pregnancy” to need no explicit definition.

8] In human beings the period of pregnancy from conception to childbirth is nine months; the period of suckling may continue for months (or even years in extreme cases).

9] During this time, the mother is vulnerable and in need of support. It is  generally considered that this support should be, in the first place, the responsibility of the father, the male who initiated the pregnancy.

10] In less developed societies, in which the majority of adult females will tend to be involved in child-bearing, those women will be predominantly occupied with tasks in and around the home. The males will be available for more wide-ranging activities – hunting and gathering in the earliest societies, then herding and agriculture, and then other specialisms. However, advances in technology and economics have made this division of expectation between the sexes  less clear-cut, although the underlying biological differences remain.

11] Overall, the continuation of the human species requires the co-operation of male and female; but the burden falls most directly and heavily on the female. To safeguard her needs, society has developed an institutional framework whereby the responsibility of the appropriate male is ensured. This institution is called “matrimony”, from the Latin mater (mother) and munus (burden, responsibility) – matri-munium.

April 10, 2021, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I shall be pausing my series of Commentaries on St Anthony for a few weeks, being away from home.

April 3, 2021, 8:18 pm
Filed under: St Anthony


The basic text for Antony’s Easter “Sermo” is the Gospel for Easter Day, Mark 16.1-7. This he divides into four clauses, offering a prologue, five sermons each on the first and fourth clauses, and one each on the second and third.


1. In the Prologue addressed to the preacher, Antony passes from the opening words of the Gospel, recalling how the holy women had bought spices, to a text from Ecclesiasticus referring to the apothecary who prepares spices and uses them to make ointments. This is an image of the preacher, who must take various ingredients and process them so that they may be a means of healing souls. The word “confections” represents the Latin “pigmenta“, which suggests colouring rather than taste and smell. Both paints and ointments are made by a process of grinding into small particles. Five ingredients are specially mentioned: myrrh, storax, galbanum, onycha and gutta. Antony derives their characteristics from the Gloss.

Myrrh is best known as one of the gifts presented to the infant Christ by the Magi. It is a sweet-smelling resin which was used both medicinally and for embalming, and its associations with suffering and grief make it an apt symbol of repentance. The other four spices, Antony suggests, are necessary in order to prove the genuineness of repentance.

Storax, a resin that flows from the storax tree when cut, reminds us of the tears of contrition, which are “a sweet perfume in the Lord’s sight.”

Galbanus is another resin, and it was believed to be effective as a snake-repellent. Antony therefore likens it to confession, which drives away the Devil.

Gutta was used for the treatment of certain skin conditions, such as callouses and tumours. It therefore stands for what heals the callous and hard heart, and removes the “growth” of pride. This, says Antony, is satisfaction, making amends.

Onycha, finally, is a preparation from the hoofs of animals, which Antony rightly identifies as the same substance as human nails. Coming from the extremities of the body, it presents an image of perseverance to the end.

It is obvious that these “interpretations” are somewhat forced. What Antony wished to convey was the simple point that the preacher’s aim should be to convert his hearers to repentance. This repentance is expressed in contrition, confession and satisfaction, and it should endure. All this is just basic theology, and Antony had made the same points from the “Sermo” for Septuagesima. It does not emerge from the text as such: the text is chosen as a mnemonic to help the hearer remember the lesson. This is Antony’s regular method, valid as a preaching technique, if not as an rule for academic Biblical exegesis.

Like an apothecary pounding his ingredients between pestle and mortar, the preacher breaks down the elements he is using so as to make them easily assimilable by his hearers. His aim is not simply to impart information to the intellect, but to move hearts to make a response to God. Antony is well called the “Evangelical Doctor”, the teacher of the Gospel. His whole purpose is evangelization. As the apothecary uses wine and oil as a base in which to mix the various spices, so the preacher must have as a permanent basis the Blood of Christ, shed on the Cross, and the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation of the Word, with his Passion, death and Resurrection, and the indwelling of the Spirit, are the two themes that underlie everything else.

2. The Gospel is divided into four clauses: the devotion of the holy women, and their buying spices; the rolling away of the stone; the vision of angels; and the Resurrection.


3. The “Table of Themes” calls this “A sermon on humility.” In the first section of the Gospel, the three women come to the tomb with spices. Antony considers the names of the three, in order to illustrate the virtues or dispositions with which every Christian should approach the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection. Strictly speaking, he considers three words which form part of their names. In two cases, these are not their personal names at all. Again, Antony has a point he wishes to make, and seizes on whatever there is in the text that will fit into his scheme. Nor does he make a long discourse on these names, or the personalities of the women, but launches into a consideration of various Old Testament verbal echoes which also help to illustrate his point.


The key word here is “Migdal”, the name of Mary’s home village. One of the meanings of this word, according to St Jerome in his Lexicon on Origen’s works (PL 23.1292), is “tower”, and this is regularly, for Antony, a reference to humility. It is humility which, in truth, exalts us, whereas pride abases us. In Genesis, we read how Jacob “pitched his tent beyond the sheep-tower.” Sheep are proverbially simple creatures, and so the text reminds us that we should live (“pitch our tent”) on the further side (that is, having acquired) humility and simplicity.

Antony leaves the Marcan account of the Resurrection in favour of John’s, which has more to say about Mary Magdalene. Mary “stood at the tomb”. The Latin word is “monumentum“, which (as in Septuagesima) Antony derives via Isidore from moneo, (I warn, advise) and mens (mind). It is a reminder of death and mortality, and so is a suitable place to find the penitent Magdalene. Antony notes that sin is easy, repentance hard, and quotes Cato (Disticha II,17,2) on the slowness of building up, and the swiftness of demolition. He also uses a phrase, “The downward path is easy, but how hard is the path up” (facilis est descensus, sed difficilis ascensus), which is reminiscent of Vergil in Aeneid VI 126-8: “facilis est descensus Averni, sed revocare gradus.” Did Antony know Vergil? He quotes from the Eclogues and Georgics a few times, but nowhere clearly from the Aeneid.

The Magdalene weeps, stoops and looks. This simple yet vivid picture is again used by Antony as a mnemonic for the three acts of the penitent: contrition, confession and satisfaction. The two angels, or messengers, are taken as representatives of birth and death, because they stand at either end of the body. If we think about our beginning and our ending, we are reminded of our frailty and of the vanity of the world. There were two angels who saved Lot from Sodom, biding him escape to the hills and not look back. These reminders of our earthly condition should likewise induce us to take the upward path, without lingering or looking back.


4. In the Table of Themes, this section is referred to as, “A sermon on contempt for the world, and how one should receive the Body of Christ.” Although called in English translations this Mary is called “the mother” of James, in Latin she is simply “of James”, and it is the name James (Jacobus) that is relevant. James is “Jacob”, the Supplanter. Antony uses the feminine form, supplantatrix, to underline the application of the word to Mary herself. What we are concerned with is the supplanting of the world and its standards by the desire for heaven in our hearts. The text Antony sets beside this is St Paul’s exhortation to “purge out the old leaven”, which itself echoes the injunction to the Israelites in Exodus to keep no leaven or yeast in their house at Passover time. Fermenting yeast bubbles and overflows, and this is an apt image of the human heart seething with animal instincts and desires. Antony quotes a Sequence by Adam of St Victor (which he may well have learnt at São Vicente in Lisbon, or at Santa Cruz at Coimbra; Sequentia V, PL 196.1437-8), though to make his point he changes Adam’s celebretur (celebrate) to praedicatur (preach). He is concerned with the proclamation of Christ’s victory, not simply its celebration. An alternative image to the leaven is that of the restless sea, casting up mud upon the shore.

In Exodus, the Israelites were commanded to keep no leaven in their dwellings for seven days. Only unleavened bread was used throughout the week of Passover. This complete week, says Antony, stands for our complete life. As the Israelites left Egypt, they took with them unleavened dough- flour and water mixed- done up in linen cloths so as to be carried. When they camped, they had only to take a portion and bake it into scones on the fire. Here again, for Antony, is an image of contrition, confession and satisfaction. The flour is ground and sifted, mixed with tears, bound up and carried by us, and then baked with the fire of the love of the Holy Spirit to be the way-bread of our earthly pilgrimage. It makes a lovely and memorable simile.

5. Much of the next section is lifted directly from the Glossa Ordinaria on Luke 22.1. Christ is our Passover. He is the Lamb that was slain; he is also the First-born, claimed by the destroying angel as he passed through the land. This Paschal Mystery is at the heart of our faith. The Israelites were bidden to eat the Passover with loins girt, with feet shod, and with staff in hand, in instant readiness for departure. Antony interprets this for Christians. The girding of the loins is mortification of our physical desires, especially sexual. Our feet are shod with the examples of the saints, so that our necessary contact with the earth is protected against injury by the world and the Devil (scorpions and serpents). The staff that supports us on our way is the word of God, both preached and practised. We are pilgrims and wayfarers. Antony quotes a “philosopher” (unfortunately, we are not able to identify the quotation), who likens the world to a bridge. It is there to be crossed, from womb to tomb, not lingered upon. True to the name “Jacob”, we must tread down and reject the ways of the world.


6. In the third case, Antony does consider the name of the woman herself, but only very briefly. “Salome” is derived from “shalom“, “peace”. Antony refers to three aspects of peace, as presented in a text from Ecclesiasticus:

  • Peace between brothers;
  • Peace between neighbours;
  • Peace between husband and wife.

He also quotes the Psalmist: “How good and joyful, when brothers are at one!” What is envisaged, then, is primarily harmony in human relationships. Along with humility and the rejection of worldly standards, it is necessary to be at peace with others if we are to approach the Risen Christ.


The three women, having seen on the Friday evening where Jesus was entombed, and having purchased before sunset the materials they needed for his body, were forced by the Sabbath to rest until sunset on the Saturday. Antony supposed that they would have prepared their ointments partly on Friday afternoon, and partly on Saturday evening, but they could not return to the tomb until daylight. He recalls a passage in Aristotle’s Natural History about the life of the bee. There are some discrepancies between what Antony’s version and the text of Aristotle we now possess. What Aristotle wrote was:

They share out the work among themselves, as I have said above, and some make the combs, others the honey, others the hive. Some smooth the combs, some bring water to the cells and blend the honey, others go to work outside. In the morning they remain still, until one, with double or triple humming, arouses them all. Then they all fly off to their work. (History of Animals, IX,40,627a,20-25)

Possibly Antony was relying on his memory, having read the book while a student at Coimbra. It is not likely that he had ready access to such texts in the houses of the friars, though they may have been available in monasteries that he visited. The gist of the passage is that the bees share out their work, and have a time of rest. In the morning, one bee wakes the others by humming. This, says Antony, was the Magdalene’s role, because her love was the greatest. However, he alludes to a tradition that one person never left the tomb at all, whether from fear (like the men) or to rest (like the women). The Blessed Virgin is supposed to have remained at the tomb throughout the Sabbath, keeping watch, and she was the only person to do so. This tradition is mentioned also in the “Vitis Mystica“, though in slightly different sense:

If we understand mental flight, neither man was left nor woman, except her who is alone blessed among women, who alone in that sad Sabbath stood in faith; and the Church was saved in her alone. For this reason, the Church most fittingly keeps Saturdays throughout the year to the praise and honour of the Virgin. (“Vitis Mystica“, 2, 4; PL 184.639)

The implication seems to be that Mary alone remained firm in faith (not necessarily actually at the tomb), and that because of this the Church was “saved”- that is, it had at least one faithful member throughout the whole time. Antony claims only that “they say” that Mary remained at the tomb.


7. The next section is referred to (in the Table of Themes) as “a sermon for religious.” The general application of the Eater narrative so far is this: the faithful should approach the mystery of the Resurrection with humility, with poverty (or contempt for the world), and at peace with all. They should use good-will in order to obtain those things that they mean to bring with them. These “spices” are interpreted after the fashion noted in the Prologue, although here the actual ingredients are different:

  • Myrrh now stands for devotion, and it has priority;
  • Cinnamon, which is ash-coloured, is the remembrance of death;
  • Calamus (which also means “reed-pipe”) is “the music of confession”;
  • Cassia, a tall herb which grows in watery places, is faith which springs from Baptism and grows tall through charity;
  • Olive oil, which soothes, is a symbol of mercy and compassion.

These are the ingredients listed in Exodus for anointing the sacred utensils, namely the tabernacle, the ark, the table for the holy bread, the candle-stick, and the altars of incense and of sacrifice. Antony gives a brief interpretation of each of these:

  • The tabernacle (the Lord’s tent in the wilderness): the poor, that is, those who like the Franciscans embrace the ideal of poverty and form the “tent” in which God himself accompanies his pilgrim people.
  • The ark (containing the Law): the human heart, penitent and obedient to God’s Law.
  • The table and dish: those who set before us the apostolic preaching, with humility and love (“the table of the word”).
  • The candlestick: prelates who set an example of holy living, not obscured by worldliness, as well as lesser ministers who assist them.
  • The altar of sacrifice: the active life of service to neighbour.
  • The altar of incense: the contemplative life of prayer.

Every Christian will fit somewhere in this scheme, and all need anointing with the various virtues mentioned above.


8. This is “a moral sermon on tranquillity of heart.” Antony closes this first section with a note on the verbal discrepancies perceived between the Gospels relating to the time the women came to the tomb. This is a matter of the “Literal Sense”, with which Antony is not usually much concerned, but he does his best to remove the difficulty. The Sabbath rest ran from sunset to sunset, but the important fact is that the women arrived at dawn. The moral significance is that they come in the dawn of grace after the night of sin. They come, having rested from temporal things, thus obeying God who forbade the Jews to carry burdens through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath. The “gates of Jerusalem” are the senses of the soul, the city of God within us. When we are devoted to God, we allow nothing worldly to pass in. The quotation from Augustine is found in De Genesi ad litteram, VI,12,22; PL 34.348.


9. Another “sermon for those wishing to enter religious life.” For the second clause, concerning the rolling away of the stone, Antony gives three interpretations. One is “Allegorical” (i.e., here, Ecclesiological), the other two being “Moral”. The allegorical interpretation is simply this: the stone represents the Law, which was written on stone. When this is removed, the glory of the Resurrection is revealed, and in particular the old dispensation of Law gives way to the dispensation of grace, channelled through the sacraments.

The first moral interpretation is this: the stone is the weight of sin. It is like the stone that closed Laban’s well, and prevented Rachel from watering her sheep. Sin cuts off grace from the mind, and it must be removed if wholesome thoughts (our “flock”) are to be refreshed and renewed.

The second moral interpretation is more specialised. It applies to those wishing to undertake the monastic life. Aspirants are easily deterred by the thought of the austerity and discipline that lies ahead, an obstacle between them and their desire to find Christ. Who will roll it away? Antony reminds them that, as with sin itself, it is not human effort alone, but the action of God himself, that will clear the way. They should go forward with confidence. He quotes Cicero: “Nothing is difficult to someone who loves.” (Cicero, Orations, 10.33). As this text is also quoted by St Bernard (Sermon for Palm Sunday 1,2; PL 183.255), it is possible that Antony has taken it from Bernard rather than Cicero directly.

Although this section is brief, it illustrates Antony’s method of using a simple text as a vivid image capable of many applications. None of the above are “the” meaning of the text, exclusively; but Scripture provides us with an archetype which can be exemplified in many different ways. There is a delicate and complex web of analogy and cross-reference, which is justified by the principle that, as the Author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, his intention embraces all things which he sees as reflecting the archetype he expresses.


10. This is “a sermon for contemplatives.” In another short section, Antony offers one interpretation (this time a “moral” one, derived from St Gregory’s Moralia in Iob VI, 37,56; PL 75.760) of the incident where the women see the angel, the “young man in white.” A moral interpretation applies a text to the earthly life of the Christian, and in particular, here, to those following the contemplative life. This can mean not only those dedicated to it in a particular, institutional form, but also those actually engaged in contemplative prayer, in any walk of life. They are, as it were, “dead to the world”, and their life is “hidden with Christ in God,” as St Paul says. This is not the only occasion on which Antony uses the text from Job, likening death to the harvesting of grain into a barn (see, e.g. Septuagesima, 5). Spiritually, the chaff of worldliness has been blown away, and only soliod wheat remains.

Entering the tomb of contemplation, then, the disciple sees a “young man in white” on the right hand. Antony relates “young” (iuvenis) to the verb “to help” (iuvare)- the etymology coming, as usual, from Isidore (Etymologies, XI, 2, 16; PL 82.417). Christ, with his eternal youth and vigour, waits in readiness to help thse who approach him. He welcomes those “outside” and encourages them to pass in. His white robe is his sinless human nature, and the “right side” on which he sits reminds us both of the wound in his right side, and the place he prepares for us at his right hand. Antony quotes Bernard (Sermon on the psalm “Qui habitat” 7,15; PL 183.208). He then quotes another long passage, which he also attributes to St Bernard, although it is now reckoned to be by Guigo the Carthusian (Ad fratres de Monte Dei, I, 14.42-3; PL 184.335-6). This concerns the importance of meditation on the sacred Humanity. As do the Carmelite Doctors of a later period, Antony believes that we can never outgrow or by-pass the Incarnation; we cannot directly access the divine except through Christ who became man.


11. Christ was in the tomb during two nights and the intervening Sabbath day. The two nights represent our physical and spiritual death, due to sin. The Sabbath day is he simple rest from his labours that the sinless Christ took for our redemption. Ten appearances of Christ are recounted after his Resurrection, and to each one Antony gives a moral interpretation. His summary is taken from Peter Comestor’s Historia Scholastica (on Acts, 1,3,4; PL 198.1645-7), although he contracts some things and amplifies others. He then considers each appearance in more detail.


12. Grace comes first to the soul that is penitent, like the manna which appeared in the wilderness at dawn. The three stages of penitence (contrition, confession and satisfaction) are as usual spelled out by Antony.


The women were returning from the tomb, that is, from meditation on Christ’s death, when they saw the Lord. Similarly, Abraham sat at the door of his tent at noon, in the “Valley of Clear Sight”. Grace comes to the just man when he rests humbly in his bodily existence (his “tent”), looking with clear sight towards heaven, and in the noon-day heat of “compunction”. “Compunction” is a favoured term of Antony’s, as it was for St Gregory. It indicates the “piercing” of the heart by sorrow for one’s recognised failings. This should be “fervent”, not simply routine.


Although this appearance is not described in the Gospels, it is referred to several times. Christ’s everlasting love could not be thwarted by Peter’s denial. On the contrary, Peter had to be re-established not only in friendship but in his Apostolic responsibility. Peter is specifically named among the Apostles as one to whom the women must bring the news- in case (according to St Gregory, quoted in the Glossa Ordinaria on Mark 16.7) in his shame he should think he was not included. The quotation from Augustine is from his Enarrationes in psalmis 49.6; PL 36.568.


Antony says that “Emmaus” means “desire of counsel”, although the Glossa Ordinaria (apparently following Jerome, Hebrew Names, PL 23.887) suggests that it means “castaway people” (populus abiectus). We do not always know where Antony gets his etymology. Here, he connects the name with or Lord’s counsel to the young ruler, to sell all and give to the poor (a text of particular interest to Franciscans). There are two disciples on the way, because of the two-fold precept to Love God and our neighbour. The Old Testament parallel is Isaac’s journey to Beer-sheba, “the well that satisfies”, where he saw the Lord. The thirst of the soul is satisfied by the waters of love and humility. Antony here follows the Gloss in his etymology. Beer-sheba is actually “the well of the oath”, where God renewed to Isaac the promise he had made to his father, and where Isaac dug a well.


This appearance took place in the upper room. When the rational affections are gathered together, and the doors of sense are closed, then grace can appear in the soul. We recall that this is a “moral” lesson: if we want the Lord to come to us, we need to collect our thoughts and exclude the distractions of the world around us. Zacharias saw the angel when he was in the privacy of the Holy Place. For Antony, no detail is insignificant: the “right” side is a pure or “correct” intention”, while the “altar” is compunction, a tenderness of heart, or prick of conscience, that is sensitive to God’s love and our own unworthiness of it. The etymologies are secondary- they are pegs on which to hang the spiritual teaching.


13. This is “a sermon on the general resurrection and the four gifts of the glorified body, which are represented by the four rivers of paradise.” Antony cites a text of Isaiah prophesying that in the Day of the Lord the light of the moon will by as bright as sun-light now, while the sun will increase seven times in brightness (as if a week’s light came on one day), and this day would be one of healing. It was believed that during the seven days of creation before the Fall, the heavenly bodies were brighter than they have been since. At the end of time, they would be restored to their former glory, and shine simultaneously (sun, moon and stars) upon the earth. Peter Lombard (IV Sententiae, d. 48, c 5), basing himself on Isidore (De ordine creaturarum liber, 5,5; PL 83.924) says:

As brightly as the sun shone in its first condition, for the seven days before the sin of the first man, so brightly will it shine after the judgement. For the light of the sun and the moon and the stars was diminished by the sin of the first man; but then the sun will receive the reward of its labour, because it will then be sevenfold. And thus there will be no alteration of day and night, but only day.

The cosmology underlying this legend is of course quite incompatible with the Ptolomaic system which would have been Antony’s “scientific” view, but the symbolic value is evident. The general Resurrection will mark the healing of all fleshly ills, and the City of God will shine and sparkle like “golden glass” in the rays of the heavenly sun. This (we infer) is foreshadowed in the healing of Thomas’s unbelief on the seventh day after Easter.


The new Paradise (the glorified human body) will be watered by four rivers, the four gifts first referred to by Antony in the Sermo for Septuagesima. These are “brightness”, “subtlety”, “agility” and “immortality”.

“Brightness” (claritas) refers to the glory of the risen body, as if it were made of light. Light was of considerable interest to medieval philosophers: was it material or spiritual? What was its nature? Clarus implies not only “bright”, but “clear”. The glorified body is “transparent”, like glass, casting no shadow and entirely open to inspection. It offers no obstacle to a mind wishing to know it, it holds no secrets. “Pison” means “freely flowing”, though Antony thought it meant “change of mouth (or countenance)”, oris mutatio.

“Subtlety” is the power of the risen body to pass unhindered through obstacles, just as now thoughts pass unhindered from our “heart” (which the medievals thought of as the seat of mental activity, rather than the brain), through the breast (“Gehon”) without injuring it. Matter is somehow “spiritualised”, enabling Christ to pass through the locked door.

“Agility” is the power to act without hindrance, and in particular to move from place to place instantaneously (swifter than an arrow, the supposed meaning of “Tigris”), as Christ passed from Emmaus to Jerusalem.

“Immortality” is the property of not being subject to natural death or dissolution into constituent parts. The soul is naturally immortal, since it has no such constituents, but the risen body will also have this property- the effect of the complete control over it that the soul will possess. As immortal, we shall also be supremely “fruitful” (Euphrates). The introduction of the four rivers is undoubtedly rather forced, but has mnemonic value.


14. This is “a sermon for the preacher or prelate of the Church.,” which means as usual any bishop or priest who has an ex officio duty to preach to the people. Fishing is (as the Gospel itself indicates in the calling of the Apostles) an allegory for the work of preaching. After Moses had seen the glory of God, he (together with Aaron) struck the rock with his staff to find water for the people. Moses needs Aaron to support him, and Aaron means (according to Jerome, Hebrew Names, PL 23.830) “strong mountain”- the real meaning is “enlightened”. The preacher’s strength is in fact the excellence of his own life, and without this no-one will take any notice of him. The sermon is, as it were, given by two people: the preacher’s words and the preacher’s life. The quotation is from St Gregory, In Evangelia homilia 12,1; PL 76.1119. When the preacher gathers the people and strikes their stony hearts with the rod of preaching, springs of compunction will gush forth. The same truth is exemplified in the multitude of fish the Apostles gathered in their net.


15. A sermon for penitents. Galilee was an “in between” area, through which the trade route from north to south passed. Through penitence, we pass from sin, via the bridge of confession, to reconciliation. The number eleven reminds Antony of the eleven goat-hair curtains that covered the tabernacle. Rough and smelly though they were (denoting the roughness of penance and the stink of sin), they nevertheless protected the tabernacle from the sun’s heat, and also protected the hangings of fine linen beneath: white, blue, purple and red. These represent the virtues of chastity, contemplation (sky-colour), suffering and charity. The rough skins also withstand the rain, wind and dirt- heresies, diabolical temptation and worldly vanity. The Lord appeared to Jacob at Luz (“an almond”). An almond has a bitter skin, a hard shell and a sweet centre. Similarly, penance is bitter, but with the hardness of perseverance we reach the sweet hope of forgivenness.


The disciples were once again in the upper room. Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem, and this echoes the command to Isaac not to go into Egypt, but to remain in the land of Canaan and wander there. We too must avoid Egypt (the world), where we would be forced to make bricks from mud (self-indulgence), water (avarice) and straw (pride). Instead, we should rest in the inner life, and count ourselves pilgrims upon earth. We should again notice Antony’s ability to find analogues for al kinds of theological pattern. One could construct an entire sermon out of the categorization of sin into self-indulgence (luxuria), avarice and pride. “Luxuria” could be translated “lust”, but this would give too narrow a meaning. Broadly speaking, we may set our hearts on physical pleasures, upon material things that are only the means to obtain these pleasures, or simply on oneself, for one’s own sake. These are closely related to the flesh, the world and the Devil.


16. Here we have “a sermon on compassion for the poor.” God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, which was not consumed. We should see God in the poor, and we should burn with compassion. Antony seems to waver between the burning of the bush, and the burning of the beholder! The poor (and here he must mean the poor in spirit, and in particular the poor Christ) are not destroyed or consumed, because they burn with the Holy Spirit. There is a verbal affinity between the Greek words for “olive” (elaia) and “to have pity” (eleeo). Our word “alms” comes from eleemosyne, “pity” or “mercy”. Hence the “Mount of Olives” is pre-eminently the Mount of Mercy, and Christ’s final appearance signals the sending out of Christians to “show mercy”, to show an active charity towards the poor and unfortunate. This concern for the poor marks Antony out as a true follower of Francis, concerned that the brothers he taught should also be concerned for the poor.

In a final peroration, Antony encapsulates all the topics covered by the Easter Sunday Gospel, and prays for grace for his readers. His affection for the brothers who had asked him to teach them is very clear.

Palm Sunday
March 30, 2021, 7:26 pm
Filed under: St Anthony


This Gospel is divided into four “clauses” (according to the Table of Themes), or four “headings” (according to the Prologue. The Gospel (from Luke) is that of the Palm procession, rather than the Passion reading from the Sunday Mass.


1. Since the Gospel begins with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, Antony takes a text of Jeremiah (46.11) about going “up” to Gilead, another mountain associated with “balm”, a perfumed oil. This text is addressed to the soul in its sinful state. Although the soul is addressed as “virgin”, Antony does not take this as virtuous, but as indicating barrenness of good works. The soul is exhorted to “go up”, to the Cross of Christ, and to let the Blood of Christ heal her wounds. We are thus given the picture of a wounded, unfruitful soul, which Christ heals and restores (and makes fruitful) through his obedient death.

2. The Gospel story falls naturally into four sections, as we shall see.


3. As elsewhere, Antony carefully notes the route taken by Christ to Jerusalem- Bethany, Bethphage, Olivet and Jerusalem. He proposes to look at this journey both “allegorically” (i.e. Christologically) and morally. In the first examination, Bethany (“house of obedience”) reminds us of Mary, who was obedient to the word of God revealed by the angel, and so was able to conceive the Word of God in her body. Christ set out on his earthly journey from the innocent and humble Virgin. Bethphage (“house of a mouth”) reminds us that after the hidden years Christ set out upon a ministry of preaching, while olives regularly stand for mercy (by the likeness of the Greek words elaia and eleos), and so represent the merciful and healing power Christ displayed in his miracles. In Jerusalem he finished his course, rescuing us from captivity to the devil. Antony retells, from Peter Comestor’s Historia Scholastica, the story of Solomon’s ostrich. Whatever the origin of this fable, Antony uses it as an image of Christ, the Word of God, entering the Virgin’s womb to receive human nature. By “breaking” that nature (death being the separation of soul and body) on the cross, he broke the power of death and hell and the devil, and freed the human race. It is the “blood” of Christ, symbolising his sacrificial obedience, that achieves this.

4. Antony now offers a rather longer moral interpretation of the same journey. Bethany was the place where Jesus had shared supper with Lazarus, Martha and Mary (who anointed his feet). Antony notes that Mark and Matthew speak of Christ’s head being anointed. Bethany being the home of Lazarus who was raised from the dead, its name is now taken as meaning “house of affliction”. (We see here that Antony takes his etymology as suits his purpose, and I do not think we are expected to take it too seriously). It stands for contrition, to which the sinner is restored by grace. Faith responds t grace and inspires hope in the face of pain. Martha and Mary represent fear of punishment and love of glory. The sinner is provoked and spurred on by the one, attracted and soothed by the other. Lazarus, type of the restored sinner, sits at table with the Lord. Mary’s ointment weighs a pound, twelve ounces in Antony’s system of measurement, the same as the months of the year, as well as the Apostles. The “nard” itself represents pure faith, and apostolic faith confesses Christ as God (anointing of the head) and as man (anointing of the feet). The scent of truth fills the soul of the penitent.

5. Bethphage (“house of a mouth”, as before) represents oral confession, which we should use regularly and not just now and then. The Mount of Olives was proverbially associated with three lights. The first is that of the sun, rising over the mount to shine on Jerusalem from the east. The second is that of the oil-lamps, fed by the olive oil harvested from the mount, and the third is that of the Temple, all lit up with sacred lamps. The Mount therefore stands for satisfaction, which is illuminated by Christ the Sun of Righteousness, by the oil of mercy shown in loving our neighbour as ourselves, and by the Church, to whose fellowship the sinner is restored. Antony quotes Job (as elsewhere): “Visiting thy species thou shalt not sin”. The word “species” is ambiguous. It probably meant here “beauty”, warning against being led into the sin of pride by dwelling on one’s own, God-given, beauty. But it can also mean one’s “kind”, as in medieval categorisation of genus and species. Here the meaning would be that by caring for one’s fellow human beings, one avoids sin. Contrition, confession and satisfaction, in heart, word and deed, bring us to the happiness of the heavenly Jerusalem.


6. Jesus sent two disciples into “the village opposite” to obtain the donkey on which he was to ride. This time Antony only gives us a moral interpretation The word “disciple” comes from “disco”, “I learn”. Antony pictures the village (“castellum”) after the fashion of medieval castles, the houses being surrounded by a wall, with a tower in the middle. The ass or donkey was supposed not to like heights, while the (newborn) colt would be regarded as unclean. With this symbolism established, Antony proceeds to explain the two disciples as contempt for the world and lowliness of heart. He offers other pairs with the same meaning: Moses and Aaron, the two poles of the Ark, the two cherubim on the ark. By “contempt”, Antony means a rejection of worldly standards and ambitions, while humility is especially opposed to the devil who fell by pride. These virtues, then, are sent to the “opposing village, or castle”. Its surrounding wall, built of stones piled up and bonded with mortar, suggests the piling up of material possessions, held together by covetousness. This typifies possessiveness. The uprearing tower suggests pride. The disciples are sent to demolish these defences (needless to say, this has no counterpart in the Gospel story!)

7. The element of opposition is suggested by the words “over against you”. Antony points out that worldly wealth is contrary to poverty, as pride is to humility. These virtues belong particularly to the Franciscan vocation. Tied up within the castle are the she-ass and her foal: these represent the lazy cleric or religious who shuns contemplation, plodding along in the plains of pleasure; together with greedy and lustful clergy who do worse. Poverty and humility are commanded to “loose” the bonds of such clergy. Antony took seriously the responsibility of the friars to bring back, by the example of their poor and humble lives, the clergy and religious who neglected these virtues to a stricter life. The Table of Themes makes this explicit.


8. The third clause consists of Matthew’s reference to the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy, which Antony quotes in its original form. The “Daughter of Sion” is the Church, daughter of the heavenly Jerusalem. Preachers should proclaim “joy” to the Church, because of the near approach of Christ the King. The first “royal clothes” of Christ were his flesh and the swaddling clothes of the Incarnation; the second were the emblems of his Passion: the crown of thorns, the cross itself.

9. Christ has come, and still comes, meekly, in order to be loved rather than feared. A king should be just, rendering to each according to his deserts, but he should also be “pius”. This is a difficult word to translate into English, since “pietas” is not simply “piety”, which suggests primarily a dutiful religious observance, being “pious”. It means also “pity”, a compassionate concern for others in their need. The ideal king is the servant of his people, protecting them and defending them from enemies, seeking their welfare. Jesus came to serve rather than to be served. Antony repeats Augustine’s analogy of the cross as  a “mousetrap” to catch the devil.

10. Christ came like a stranger or casual labourer, a wayfarer. This image is taken from Jeremiah, but it reflects the life of the friars at the beginning. The Rule of St Francis bids them to work, and only to beg (“have recourse to the table of the Lord”) when necessary. The first companions of Francis were expected to work in return for a meal or a night’s lodging. Antony depicts Christ in the same way. He laments that clergy and religious (especially those in high office) do not live like this, or even aspire to. They are only interested in possessions, position, food and fine clothing.

11. A moral lesson: to be righteous, we must “ride our donkey” (Brother Ass) by bodily restraint and by curbing our appetites. Along with such corporal mortification there should be cheerfulness and harmony within the community- another reflection of early Franciscan life.

The same image (Christ on the donkey) can be applied to the Bishop in charge of his diocese. The good bishop, like the good king, must be gentle yet fair, a defender of the poor and an example to the rich. He should not be touchy about injuries to his dignity, he should be zealous in preaching and in prayer, and above all he should be humble and self-effacing. “Blessed the Church with such a rider!” But, says Antony, the contemporary bishop is more like a reckless rider who fails to see the warning signs from God, like Balaam on his donkey!


12.  The people spread their garments and waved palm branches, and shouted “Hosanna”. Our bodies are the clothes of our soul. They should be clean, but we should be ready to lay them down (in suffering and death) for the sake of Jesus. The Jews took branches and fruits to rejoice before the Lord. We gather fruit from the examples of the blessed Virgin (humility and poverty) and the Apostles (faith, hope and charity), and above all from the Cross of Christ. It is adorned with four jewels- mercy, obedience, patience and perseverance. The saints, now immortal, give us the example of good works. In this way we should come before Christ, acclaiming him as our Saviour. A simple prayer sums up all that has gone before.

March 20, 2021, 3:56 pm
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The Table of Themes divides the Gospel into seven “clauses”, although in the Prologue they are only referred to as seven “headings”. This suggests that, at this stage of the work, Antony’s terminology had not yet settled down.


1.The Old Testament readings for the last two weeks of Lent are drawn from Jeremiah (including Lamentations). Antony takes Jer 6.1 as a call to the preacher of the Gospel to take his stand in the midst of the Church, and give a “trumpet-call” to sinners, summoning them to a new way of life. At this season the Passion of Christ should be at the centre of our thoughts.

2. The Gospel (Jn 8.46ff.) can be divided into seven topics:

Christ’s innocence;

careful attention to his words;

blasphemy against Christ;

the glory of eternal life;

glorification by the Father;

Abraham’s rejoicing; and

the attempt to stone Jesus.


3. Christ challenged his opponents to convict him of sin. Antony draws attention to the Epistle (Hebrews) which speaks of Christ as High Priest. Christ came to help the human race,, poor and wounded as it was, by his total obedience to the Father, even to death. Antony of course uses the Vulgate, so that “High Priest” is “pontifex”, the ancient title of the Roman priests, literally meaning “bridge-builder”. The river we have to cross is that between this mortal world and that of eternity. Christ made the bridge for us by obeying not only his heavenly Father, but by subjection even to his “mater paupercula”, his “poor little mother”, an affectionate and typically Franciscan term for the blessed Virgin- the “poverella”.


4. Antony connects the Latin for “God” with the notion of “awe”. The Deity is the One who is “awesome”, “to be feared”, and the God-fearer listens to his words. As usual, this is applied particularly to the penitent, who recognises his own frailty and trembles before God. Antony contrasts the attentive hearing of the believer with the obstinacy of the sinner. A series of quotations from Jeremiah stresses prayer, confession (both of sin and of praise) and the law of charity. Abstinence, and even almsgiving, are worth nothing without charity.


5. Antony explains the implications of the term “Samaritan” (a rare bit of literal interpretation), and connects it with the “watchful rod” (the almond branch) of Jer. 1.11. This is a symbol of Christ, who rules, who is sinless, and who watches over us.

6. Antony is always aware of the multiple significance of images. He compares the “watchful rod” (Christ) to the hooked pole used by burglars to steal things through the windows of houses. Christ, with the hooked rod of his crucified humanity “steals souls from the devil”. (It is interesting to recall that, after Antony’s death, mourners used just such hooked poles to obtain relics through the window of the room in which his body lay.) The “almond” aspect of the image suggests a sweet nut surrounded by a hard shell and bitter rind. Similarly, Christ’s divinity was enclosed in a human soul and a suffering body. Antony was indebted to Augustine (Sermon 245.5) for this analogy.

Christ guards the word of the Father and performs it. The accusation of being the devil’s agent is utterly false. Jeremiah’s lament at being at odds with his contemporaries foreshadows Christ. “Woe is me!” – but though Christ suffered the woe of punishment, he was free from the woe of personal guilt. It was painful to Christ to find his own people so opposed to him. Christ would gladly have advanced t his hearers “the capital of his teaching”, but none would accept it, let alone make him a return on it. The analogy with a usurer (like that with a burglar) may seem daring, but only follows Christ, who spoke of coming “like a thief”, and represented God as a king lending money to his servants. In his dealings with his opponents, Christ showed himself patient. He was not concerned for his own glory or reputation, only that the Father be known and honoured.

7. In a brief “moral” interpretation, Antony connects the word “demon” with the Greek notion of a “daimon”, meaning a spirit of skill and insight. To praise someone’s “genius” and ability is to say that they “have a daimon”. The believer, and especially the preacher, should always transfer such praise to God, who furnishes all our ability.


8. T keep Christ’s word is to have eternal life. Christ’s interlocutors responded that Abraham and the prophets (who surely kept God’s word) were dead. Was Christ claiming to be greater than these? Antony notes that death resulted from disobedience, the refusal to keep God’s word. Human nature, before sin, flourished like an olive-tree in a beautiful garden (cf. Jer 11.16). by listening to the devil’s lies, humanity became scorched and withered. True life comes only from hearing and doing God’s word.

9. Abraham may be physically dead, but spiritually he lives for ever with God.

10. Abraham represents every just man. The “years of his life” (175) can be interpreted as perfection (100), added to seven-fold grace and the ten Commandments (70), which purify the five senses (5). Antony is surely right in taking Abraham’s age as symbolic- whether or not his own number-symbolism is identical to that of the Hebrew writer is less important. Abraham’s sons, Isaac and Ishmael, can represent heavenly joy and present obedience (and we may continue Antony’s line of thought by pointing out that Ishmael came first, but gave way to Isaac. Obedience on earth will give way to joy in heaven). Abraham was buried in the “double cave”, the active and the contemplative life: again, this points to the balance of practical concern for others and insight into the things of God.


11. Christ’s glory is from God. Antony recalls in particular the Virgin Birth, Christ’s Baptism and the Transfiguration, together with the raising of Lazarus, the Resurrection and the Ascension. Antony directs his remarks against the Cathars in particular, who attributed the Old Testament to the devil. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are one and the same. This is a basic theme of Antony’s theology, the perfect harmony between Law and Gospel.


12. Abraham rejoiced in the Lord’s Day. This is summed up in the Nativity, Passion and Resurrectin of Christ. As regards our own resurrection, Antony repeats the standard teaching on the gifts of the glorified body- immortality, subtlety, agility and brightness- without elaborating on what these involve. A further detail of literal interpretation is given. Christ was 31 or 32 years old, but seems to have looked about 50, because of his labours.  The claim “I am” recalls the Creator’s eternity.


13. The Jews took up stones, but Christ is the Corner-stone who links Jews and Gentiles, peoples who are opposed to one another, like walls at right-angles.

14. Morally, all sinners oppose the truth and metaphorically cast stones at our Lord. They are like vultures who callously await the death of a parent, rather than cranes who form a protective wall around their aged parent to protect against the falcon. In every needy person we meet, Christ is knocking at our door, asking for help. Shall we be vultures, or cranes? The soul is Christ’s Bride, adorned with God’s love. We read that “Christ hid himself and went out of the Temple.” Do we want this to happen to us, through our rejection of his love? We pray that this may not happen, but that we may, like Abraham, see the Lord’s Day.

March 20, 2021, 11:25 am
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The Gospel for the fourth Sunday in Lent is not divided into clauses.


1. The Gospel tells of the miracle of the loaves. The preacher also “casts bread upon the waters” (Eccles 11.1), the bread of God’s word upon the waters of the world. Antony briefly contrasts these turbulent waters with the “waters of Siloe, that go with silence,” the message of Christ who was sent from the Father, and so is the archetype of all preachers who are sent by God.

2. The five loaves represent the five books of Moses, Moses being the Patriarch for this Sunday. The books give five “refreshments” to the soul:

rebuking sin by contrition;

exposing sin by confession;

humbling sin by satisfaction;

zeal for souls in preaching; and

heavenly sweetness in contemplation.

These five stages represent the reconciliation of the soul to God (the first three), followed by the mission to preach God’s kingdom, and the fulfilment of human life in the contemplation of God. Antony takes representative passages from the Pentateuch to connect each book with the theme he has outlined.

As regards Genesis, Antony relies on some rather dubious etymology to indicate that all penitents (here meaning all those who are seeking God in via) pass through three stages: beginners, proficients and perfect. The penitent separates himself from sin and seeks the “illumination” of good works. Antony seems to have in mind two very traditional outlines of the Christian way, the “beginner-proficient-perfect” scheme and the “purgative-illuminative-unitive” scheme. The third stage of the latter scheme is not made explicit, but is clearly indicated.

In Exodus, Moses killing the Egyptian typifies the way we should kill sin by contrition and bury it by confession. Some sacrificial ritual in Leviticus is a peg for the mention of pride and avarice, for which we make satisfaction. A text in Numbers suggests lust, which is regularly denounced by preachers, while Moses’ ascent of Mount Abarim in Deuteronomy suggests the ascent of the soul in contemplation.

Most of this seems to be purely mnemonic- the connections made between text and meaning seem quite artificial. However, if we look at the substance of Antony’s teaching, we see that it is very traditional. The only sins mentioned are pride, avarice and lust, which in a sense include all sin, as associated with the devil, the world and the flesh. The Christian life begins with the contrite rejection of these, sealed by sacramental confession and carried through into practical satisfaction. This process covers all our Christian pilgrimage, enlightened by preaching and interiorised in contemplation. We may also see preaching and contemplation as expressions of the active and contemplative lives.

3. Abruptly, Antony shifts the imagery to the five brothers of Judah (the sons of Leah). There is a “Natural History” illustration, very brief, to do with the myrrh-tree, said by Solinus to have a height of five cubits- the number five is the only connection. The five brothers- Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar and Zebulon- are interpreted in the same way as the five Books; namely as contrition, confession, satisfaction, zeal for souls and contemplation.

4. The two fishes of the Gospel story represent understanding and remembering in respect of the Scriptures and the Law of God. It is not enough simply to read them, we must also learn and inwardly digest them. The fishes can also be taken as reminders of Moses and Peter, both associated in some way with water. Moses was taken from the Nile, Peter was a fisherman. They typify the Synagogue and the Church, as do Hagar and Sarah, who are mentioned in today’s Epistle (Gal 4.22ff). Antony repeats Paul’s own interpretation of the two women as Law and Grace, but he also adds a “moral” interpretation in which they stand for sensuality and reason, often in opposition to one another in our selves.

5. The explicit “concordance” is with the Introit, “Rejoice, Jerusalem”. The five “thousands” in the Gospel are five congregations or assemblies in which discord is found:

  1. heaven, with the fall of the rebel angels through pride;
  2. Eden, and the disobedience of our first parents;
  3. Olivet and the betrayal by Judas (related particularly by Antony to simony, the sale of sacred things);
  4. Jerusalem, where Ananias and Sapphira sinned against poverty by avarice; and
  5. Corinth, where Paul excommunicated the incestuous man (lust).

Christians must avoid these five sources of discord if they are to be the heavenly Jerusalem, fed with the loaves and fishes of Christ’s teaching.

Antony’s treatment of this Gospel is remarkably brief, especially when compared with the previous Sunday. If, as I suspect, Antony did most of his writing in the winter, when travel was difficult and opportunities for preaching were restricted, he may well have discovered that he was getting behind with his allotted programme for the season. This was the first phase of his project, which must have been planned to take several years (probably five), and he had not learned to pace himself. But we find similar short treatments towards the end of the post-Pentecost cycle, and in the Time after Epiphany.

March 20, 2021, 11:22 am
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13. This is the moral interpretation of the parable. Here, the “strong man armed” is the spirit of pride, which Antony likens to the horned ram of Daniel 8.4, butting against west, north and south (in the original, the ram represented the eastern power of Persia). West is the direction of the setting sun, the poor and powerless people of the world. North represents “equals”, from a word-play in Is 14.13-14; and the hot south represents the great and powerful, basking in the sunshine of wealth. The proud man treads down the poor, despises his equals and derides his betters. It is the sin of Lucifer! Besides the two-horned ram, Antony evokes also the unicorn, since pride brooks no partner. It is a detestable sin, diametrically opposed to the humble crib of the infant Christ.

14. Antony discusses various kinds of animals’ horns. Some curve backwards, pointing to the animal’s own body. This reminds us that pride is sometimes brought low by carnal vice- the proud man is revealed as addicted to sordid and shameful sins. Forward-pointing horns suggest the opposite- an apparent virtue which is only feigned. Antony’s target is not only prelates and religious, “professional” holy people, but also lay leaders who make a parade of religion without the true spirit of Christ. They will be exposed! The most dangerous horns are those that go straight up: these stand for those who truly have the lesser virtues, but lack humility and are betrayed by pride in their own orthodoxy and observance. At one point Antony quotes “Gregory” on humility, but he nearest I have been able to find is in St Bernard’s “De gradibus humilitatis et superbiae”, 18.47.

15. By contrast, Antony considers the virtue of humility. This is the “stronger man” that overcomes pride. The heart of the proud sinner is depicted as a court, in which pride sits enthroned; but the heart full of humility is stronger. It is like the earth-worm, eating earth yet capable of extending its length because it first contracts itself. Humility is a rare pearl among virtues, a sweet-smelling blossom, a spice that gives flavour. Humility slays both pride and desire, it despoils pride of its servants, the senses and “sensuality” in general; the humble man is rightly ordered internally and in his external deportment.

16. Antony calls on religious in particular to be converted from pride to humility. Taking a prophecy of Isaiah about five cities of Egypt (Is 19.18), he uses it as an image of the enlightening of the five senses, in someone darkened by ignorance, malice and sorrow. The eyes in particular, which are the chief entrance for evil desires, should become true suns of the soul. In the day of conversion, the soul that used to speak “the language of Egypt” (the flesh) will be converted from vice to virtue, and will speak the language of God’s people. A prayer follows, for the destruction of pride and the implanting of humility.


17. Christ spoke of the unclean spirit, cast out, finding its old home unguarded, returning there with added force (Luke 11.24-26). First, Antony draws a contrast between a garden and a desert or wilderness. The soul of the penitent, open towards God, is like a delightful garden. Aware that she has nothing that is not from God, the soul is a seed-bed of virtue, flowering with charity, humility and chastity. This is the garden in which the Beloved delights to walk (cf. Cant 6.1). but when turned away from God (“behind him”, grammatically, means behind God, but it is the sinner who turns his back) there is only a desert. The soul seeks not God, but the things “after” him, temporal things. The soul fixes its gaze on pleasures, wealth etc. here there is a desert, sterile and lonely. Antony points to a “concordance” between the text of Joel and the Gospel: when the unclean spirit is gone out, the soul is like a garden; but when it returns, the soul is a desolate wilderness. Antony will discuss four points in this section:

a) the going out of the devil;

b) the temptation of the just;

c) the lukewarmness  of the negligent; and

d) the return of the unclean spirit (with seven others).

18. (a) The devil is referred to as an “unclean” spirit. Antony reminds us that even the devil was created good, but he became corrupted through pride, a total self-obsession and self-centredness. He dwells in the hearts of sinners, themselves corrupt through sin. As elsewhere, Antony particularly notes the sins of (1) pride, which is like a “shadow”, cold and dark, opposed to the warmth and light of God’s love; (2) avarice, the greed for temporal goods, which are like a hollow reed blown by the wind, empty and insubstantial; and (3) lust, the wallowing in sensual pleasures. When someone recognises their uncleanness and rejects it, the “unclean spirit” departs.

Antony uses King Manasseh as a type of the sinner held bound and captive, but who repents and is restored to freedom. Sinners forget God, he is not present in their minds in any effective way, and that is why temporal things have the power to enslave them. But God’s mercy is greater than any sin we can commit, and if only we turn to God he will save us and restore us to “Jerusalem”, the city of peace. In paragraph’s 14, 15, 17 and 18 Antony quotes “Gregory”, sometimes correctly, but twice (in par. 14 and here) incorrectly- here it should be Augustine. Was he relying on memory, which occasionally erred, or was he using some defective source-book?

19. (b) Though expelled, the devil continues to test the penitent for weak spots. Now the “desert land” is used as an image of the holy soul, poor, chaste and abstinent. In this use, the desert is, in its sterility, “clean”. We see that the same basic image can be used in more than one way. The just must therefore be wary, like bees guarding their hive. They keep fast the charity or grace which has been given them by God, not allowing any improper thought to pass through the doors of the senses, let alone linger in their minds. They should attack such intruders with the “stings” of contrition and prayer. Antony quotes “someone”, who is in fact Richard of St Victor; in the next paragraph, he seems to allude to a sermon of Innocent III. Did he know these authors directly, or at second-hand?

20. (c) Antony notes that there are three “sweepings”, or rather “brooms” for the soul (cf Innocent III). Not surprisingly, these are contrition., confession and satisfaction. After being swept, the soul is clean and empty. The danger now is complacency and idleness, the belief tha there is no more to do. St Francis, in his Rule, denounces idleness as “he enemy of the soul”, and Antony quotes Bernard (as he thinks- it is really Guigo the Carthusian) to the same effect. We must beware of “an invasion from the south”, warm and comfortable. Laxity and lukewarmness leave the soul unguarded and at risk from a new attack: thus the devil finds his old home still vacant.

21. Antony returns to the example of the bees. His bee-lore is not entirely accurate, but he knows how to distinguish the workers from the drones. The worker-bees may be less impressive to look at than the drones, but they achieve more. The true penitent should resemble them, with no showiness, but rather a love for the Cross. Antony applies this particularly to religious.

22. (d) The “seven wicked spirits” correlate to the seven lean cows and seven withered sheaves of Joseph’s dreams. They portend a famine of the spirit, whereas the seven fat cows and seven ripe sheaves represent the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which bring the soul to maturity. The lesson of the parable is that the “wicked seven” can eat up the fertility of the soul, leaving I worse than before. No-one can neglect to keep a guard on himself. Antony ends the section with a prayer that Christ will expel the evil spirit, cleanse the soul, and fill it with the sevenfold grace of the Spirit.


(23) 1. Here the Editors renumber the paragraphs, because they treat this clause as a new “Sermo”. To avoid confusion, I will use both systems. This section (Luke 11.27-28) begins with the woman in the crowd blessing the womb that bore Christ- a sentiment with which Antony associates himself.

(24) 2. Antony notes that to be blessed (beatus) is to be fulfilled, to achieve fruition. He attributes several quotations to Augustine, which seem to come via Peter Lombard’s “Sententiae”, and are not always rightly attributed. However, one comes directly and explicitly from “De natura et gratia” (36,42), regarding the sinlessness of Mary, due to a special prevenient grace. Here we have the germ of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, promoted particularly by the Franciscans. It is interesting to see it already supported by Antony.

(25) 3. Antony likens the Virgin’s womb to a store-house for the wheat from which the Bread of Life will be formed, after being ground in the mill of the Cross. He rhapsodises the paradoxes of the Virgin birth.

(26) 4. Like the deer that gives birth by the wayside, Mary gave birth in the stable of a wayside inn. She fed her Child at her breasts, which are therefore also blessed in their giving.

(27) 5. In Canticles, the Bride is likened to a palm tree, her breasts to clusters of grapes (a slightly mixed metaphor). The palm is clad in rough bark, Mary was poor, yet she produced the grapes that would be pressed into the Wine of Salvation. Antony draws parallels between the palm, the vine and Mary. As the blossom gives scent without being diminished, so Mary gave birth without losing her virginity. She is characterised by humility and virginity, by poverty, patience and abstinence.

(28) 6. Mary is the City of Refuge (cf. Num 35) to whom sinners should flee. She gave human nature to the Word, the humanity whereby Christ was made capable of suffering and so saving us.

(29) 7. Nevertheless, Christ reminds us that Mary’s blessedness came not simply from her physical child-bearing, but from her obedience in hearing the Word of God and keeping it. Antony ends with a prayer to the Virgin herself, star of the sea.

March 20, 2021, 11:20 am
Filed under: St Anthony


There is some inconsistency between the table of Themes and the Prologue regarding the division of the Gospel, which is not made clearer by the modern Editors’ decision to count the final part as a separate “Sermo”. The Table of Themes states that the Gospel (Luke 11.14–28) is divided into five clauses, and since the Table must have been compiled by Antony after the composition of the Commentary, this would seem to be his final thought. The Prologue will be discussed below. This is the first time, since Septuagesima, that the Gospel has been divided into “clauses”. In the earlier case, as we have seen, it is really the treatment that is divided into two: first considering the Creation narrative alone, then in parallel with the Gospel. Here, we really do have a subdivision of the Gospel itself.


1. The Gospel recounts the expulsion of a devil from a dumb man. Antony compares this to the story of the evil spirit that afflicted Saul, to be dispelled by the music of David’s harp. The devil, created good by God but corrupted by pride, and so cast out, seizes Saul, whose name means “abuser”. We would now tend to explain Saul’s condition in psychological terms- he was in “bad spirits” in a figurative sense- but in the Scripture and in medieval theory this would be seen as the effect of diabolic influence in a literal sense. David’s sweet music eased Saul’s depression; in similar fashion the preacher must dispel the influence of evil with the harmony of God’s word.

2. Antony now refers to four parts of the Gospel (not yet termed clauses), which he intends to compare with four parts of the story of Joseph from Genesis. How do these four parts relate to the five clauses of the Table of Themes? The first part corresponds to the first clause (Luke 11.14-20), and the second part to the second clause (Luke 11.21-23). However, this part is treated again in the third clause, so that the third part (Luke 11.24-26) now becomes the fourth clause. The fourth part (Luke 11.27-28) is therefore the fifth clause in the Table of Themes. We should note that whichever scheme is adopted, the final part on the woman in the crowd is an integral part of this Gospel Commentary.


3. Antony first notes that the Gospel includes, in effect, four miracles: giving sight (because in the parallel passage in Matthew (Mt 12.22) the demoniac is said also to be blind), giving speech, giving hearing and expelling the devil. He intends to apply this to the Lord’s everyday work in the Church, in the moral sphere. The man held captive by demonic forces had lost his three principal senses- sight, speech and hearing. Morally, these represent knowledge, confession and obedience. In relation to penitents, for whom this section is particularly intended, this means knowledge of one’s own sinful state, frank confession to a priest, and ungrudging obedience to the confessor’s advice.

The concordance (so noted) is to the story of Joseph in Genesis 37, where he is said to go to Hebron, Shechem and Dothain. Joseph means “growing”, and the three place names mean “vision”, “labour” and “failing”. The penitent grows in God’s sight in proportion to his lessening in his own sight, just as Saul became king when he was a person of no significance. The three places represent, we might say, stages in this growth: the recognition of sin, the labour of acknowledging it openly, and the ceasing of self-will. We get a good example here of what Antony means by a “concordance”. The three places correspond in significance to the three disabilities of the demoniac, to whom Saul himself corresponds as signifying the penitent sinner.


Hebron is not in fact a valley, but is so referred to in the Vulgate text. We are always dealing with the literary character of people, places and things, rather than their historic reality. As valley, the place symbolises humility, an inward disposition which should be expressed outwardly as well. Here we must “see our ways” (Jer 2.23). We recognise the paths we are on, and their destination. Paths and roads are a regular image of the “journey of life”, and just as there is a right road, so it is possible to leave it and pursue wrong paths, away from God. We need to “look up”, because the City of God is on a mountain-top, and see how we have gone astray. Few (says Antony) look up in this way. Most look sideways, with twisted gaze. “Seeing things straight” is to recognise one’s failings, and then to admit them honestly. We should not let embarrassment deter us from this. Antony cites the curlew. According to ancient lore, if this bird looks straight at a sick person, that person will be cured; but if it looks sidelong, death results. So the sinner needs to look straight at his sins; if he just squints at them, refusing to confront them, he will be lost. Admit your situation if you want to be freed from it.


4. So the next stage, after recognition, is confession. This is “labour and sorrow”, but the penitent is as it were in labour to bring forth a new life, a renewed soul. Job spoke of female deer giving birth with piteous cries: the sinner should be in pain over his sins. But many resemble horses, said to give birth with no effort, yet easily made to miscarry if exposed to smoke- which represents concupiscence or wrong desire. Antony advises honesty and openness, including any relevant circumstances, but no more. Dishonesty suggests a lack of true sorrow.


Genuine sorrow is ready to be advised, to listen attentively and respectfully (ob-audire) to one’s confessor and spiritual physician.

5. Returning to the Gospel text, Antony takes the first words, “Jesus was casting out a devil.” The devil is “an evil wild beast”, such as that alleged (falsely) to have devoured Joseph. The devil’s assault, as previously noted, deprives the soul of spiritual sight, voice and hearing. Antony brings forward another “concordance”- the passage where Joseph is stripped of his coat, flung in a pit, and sold into slavery (Gen 37). Joseph’s multicoloured coat is another image of the knowledge of sin. The naked Peter put his coat on to meet the risen Christ. Like penitent Peter, we put on knowledge of our failure, and cast ourselves into the bitter sea (contrition) to be re-united with Christ. It is not enough to recognise our faults, if we are not also sorry for them. Joseph’s coat was “ankle-length”, covering everything. Our self-knowledge should also cover everything. This is so especially when death approaches- our “swan-song” should be a full acknowledgement of our sins. The swan’s last song was said to be painful, yet beautiful. To confess may be difficult, but confession of sin will lead to confessing the praise of God. However- the devil strips the sinner of this self-knowledge, to prevent him repenting.

The waterless pit is a good image of the hardened state of inveterate sinners. Without the water of confession, the soul is imprisoned in a pit. It resembles King Zedekiah, who was first blinded and then bound with chains. The sinner is sold into slavery when he withdraws from the Church’s preaching and refuses to listen. He is in “Egypt”, unable to hear the word of eternal life.

6. The kind Jesus casts the devil out. He imprints his own name of Love on sinners and seals them with his Passion (cf Eph 5.2). The love and the suffering are inseparable, one manifests the other. Tobias put the fish’s liver on burning coals to bind the devil. For Antony, the liver (not the heart) was the seat of affection (the heart was associated with thought). The coals are in image of the Passion. Raphael, the healing Angel, binds the devil in Egypt. Once the devil is cast out, the man sees, speaks and hears again- and the crowds are amazed! The cessation of the cause ends the effect. Antony makes a slightly forced parallel with the Epistle: Paul speaks of goodness, justice and truth- these are related to knowledge of sin, confession and obedience. The first clause ends with thanks to Christ, and a prayer that he may cast out sin from our hearts, and enable us to know and confess our sin, and obey our confessor.


7. In the second part of the Commentary, on Luke 11.21-22, Antony turns to Christ’s response to the accusation that he exorcises by diabolic power. A strong man is secure at home, unless a stronger man overcomes him. Antony first recalls Jacob’s blessing of Joseph (Gen 49.24), which speaks of his bow subduing the strong- a mistranslation, since the text really means that Joseph will break the bows of the strong. Joseph, here, represents the preacher who builds up the Church by his preaching. His bow has the Old Testament for its wood, and the New Testament for its string. The bow is strengthened when preaching is backed up by action (St Bernard is cited, Sermon on Canticles 59.3; PL 183.1063). The bow “rests on the strong”, that is, on Christ. He is the “strong man” who binds the strong devil. This paragraph, tabulated as “a sermon for the preacher”, acts as a Prologue to the second clause, which will be expounded first allegorically, and then morally. ( The moral interpretation will be tabulated as the third clause, introducing a discrepancy with paragraph 2, as already noted).

8. The “strong man armed” is the devil. Antony compares him to Goliath, as described in 1 Sam 16.4-7. Antony applies various phrases in the description o the Enemy. He changes virtue to vice, joy to pain. He presents himself under the guise of an angel of light, to deceive us. He squeezes us by temptation, which brings the good to glory but the bad to damnation. Temptation, testing, shows our true metal. He lives in the heart of the wicked (“the devil’s guest-house”, cf. Hab 3.7), as Christ lives in the hearts of the just. The devil was created good, but corrupted himself by his own choice. By coincidence, Goliath’s height (six cubits and a span) is the same as the measuring rod of the Temple, in Ezek 40.35. The measure of the Church consists in the six corporal works of mercy, together with the “span” of contemplation. The devil stretches himself against both these aspects of the Church.

Goliath’s helmet and armour were of brass- the devil’s armour consists of “brazen” souls that defend him; but Antony recalls also the “sounding brass” which makes a noise meaning nothing. Goliath’s chain-linked mail resembles the scales of Leviathan in Job 41. The wicked stick closely together, preventing the entry of grace and of preaching. The leg armour, defending the loins, represents the excuses made for lust in particular, while the shield resists the arrows of preaching. Antony builds up a vivid picture, in which the devil and his defenders are seen as strong, yet continually assailed by God’s grace, which seeks to save and not destroy. The wicked resist precisely that which could bring them joy. In this paragraph, and later in par 13, Antony quotes tags from classical authors: Juvenal (“Concord is a great thing for the weak”) and Lucian (“Pride suffers no partner”). It is unlikely that he knew the actual works of these authors, more likely that he found the quotations in an anthology.

9. Goliath was armed with a spear “like a weaver’s beam”. Antony takes up the image of weaving. The devil weaves webs to catch us, like a spider catching a fly. The unwary victim is first bound, then sucked dry. The devil’s thread is thought, anchored in the senses and centred in the heart (the seat of thought). The sinner who allows the thoughts of the devil into his heart is bound and sucked dry of all goodness. Antony, too, weaves his thoughts subtly! A single word from Scripture evokes an image from the Book of Creation, and a vivid picture is drawn of sin and its victim.

10. By contrast, we may consider Christ’s armour. Before Christ’s coming, the devil ruled not by right, but by our disobedience. No power before Christ was strong enough to dislodge him. But “the Word leapt down from the royal throne” (Wisd 18.15), to rescue man and evict the oppressor. Christ, in Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy, put on justice as breastplate, salvation as helmet, and vengeance and zeal as garments (cf Eph 6.14-17; 1 Thess 5.8). The basic armour is justice. There is a fundamental rightness in Christ’s conquest of the devil and his works. The helmet on his head is his humanity, covering his divine nature, the instrument of salvation. Vengeance (or, better, “vindication”) is the revelation and establishment of right, while zeal is the driving force behind it. Christ is armed with his humanity and with the Cross. So armed, he overcomes the devil and frees his captives.

11. Joseph was imprisoned with two other malefactors (the baker and the butler), because he would not yield to lust. Interpreting his companions’ dreams, he predicted death for one, life for the other. Jesus would not submit to the demands of the synagogue, and Pilate (like Potiphar) accepted the false accusations against him, nailing him between two thieves, one of whom was promised paradise, while the other blasphemed and perished. Antony’s treatment of Judaism is of interest. The gravamen of the charge against Christ was his putting himself above the Law, and he was accused to Pilate of (effectively) putting himself above Roman law as well. In a sense, both these charges were true, but only in the sense that law exists for the good of humanity, and not to enslave it.

12. The “stronger man” takes away the possessions of the “strong man”. Christ frees those held unjustly by the devil. This can be understood in several ways. Christ gives back to humanity the glory stolen by the devil, and he gives to Christians various gifts and ministries to build up the Church. This, then, is the Christological interpretation of the parable, using the Old Testament parallel of Goliath, with subsidiary images from the story of Joseph.

Second Sunday in Lent (second Sermon)
March 14, 2021, 7:48 pm
Filed under: St Anthony


The Table of Themes lists this simply as “The Gospel for the same Sunday.” This is the Gospel widely used outside Rome, Matthew 15.21-28.


1. The words, “Jesus went (out) from there”, suggest to Antony the verse in 1Kg(Sm) 4.1 where it says that “Israel went out” to battle against the Philistines in the time of Samuel, and encamped at Eben-ezer, “the Stone of Help”. Antony interprets Israel as “seed of God”, thus evoking the idea of the word as seed, as in Sexagesima. He cites Isaiah 1.9, if God had not left us seed, we should have been like Sodom and Gomorrha. “Philistine” means “drunkard falling down”, thus representing the devils who fell from heaven, drunk with pride. Thus, the preacher should see himself as going out to battle against the devil, to rescue sinners; but he must encamp by “the Stone of Help”. This stone is Christ, symbolised in today’s Office reading by the stone at Bethel which Jacob took to support his head while he slept. We must rest our minds on Jesus, through whom alone we can overcome the powers of evil. Our life and our preaching must be “encamped by Jesus”. We rely on him entirely in our ministry.

2. There are three main points in the Gospel- not yet termed “clauses”. They are the going out of Jesus, the Canaanite’s prayer and the deliverance of her daughter.


3. “Going out” represents the way that anyone who follows Jesus- any penitent- must abandon the vanity of the world. Since our Old Testament parallel this week is Jacob, Antony seizes on Gen 28.10, where Jacob leaves Beersheba on his way to Haran to seek a wife. The two passages, and the two goings out, are explicitly linked as a “concord” between the two Testaments.

The name Jacob means “supplanter”, in this case suggesting the supplanting of sensuality by reason. Beersheba means “the seventh well” and, since Jacob is departing from it, it represents the world’s insatiable desire, the root of evil (cf. 1 Tim 6.10). Antony links it with the well of Sychar, which the Samaritan woman calls “deep”, and which Jesus contrasts with the water of life: “Whoever drinks of this well will thirst again.” Wordly desir is deep- indeed bottomless, so that it can never be satisfied. It is like a leech endlessly sucking our blood (cf. Prov 30.15), an apt image of the devil, who thirst’s for our soul’s blood. Riches and pleasures (the world and the flesh) are his “daughters”, never satisfied.

Another such bottomless pit is referred to in Apoc 9.2-3, from which emerges smoke that pollutes the air, followed by a plague of locusts.  Antony applies this image especially to religious, who should be luminous and “airy”. Cupidity has stained them like smoke, their gold has become tarnished (cf. Lam 4.1). The whole complex of images is applied to the defilement of contemplation by cupidity. Its bright colours (white for chastity and Christ’s incarnation, red for charity and his Passion) are overlaid with soot from the pit.

4. After the smoke come the locusts. This grasshopper-like insect represents religious, who should leap heavenwards with the strong limbs of poverty and obedience. Instead, contemporary religious infest the earth with their commercial and legal disputes. Antony recalls a tag of Horace (Epistle I, 1,10), “They build up and pull down, squaring the circle”- an indication of a futile exercise. He launches into a fierce diatribe against such behaviour. Where in the prophets, Gospels, Epistles or Rules of Benedict and Augustine is such behaviour commended? Jesus taught us to give way to others, even to those who oppose and defraud us. This is “the Rule of Christ”. Servants cannot do better than their Master. Instead, religious complain about their clothing, while prelates care more about Canon Law than the moral Law. Christ’s condemnation of hypocritical Pharisees in his own day has equal application to clergy and religious today. This whole section is listed as “a sermon on contempt of the world.” Antony’s own contempt for the shoddy standards prevalent among his contemporaries is apparent.

5. Why the “seventh” well? Seven may indicate the sum of sins (seven is a number of completion), or that sin is endless (like the Sabbath that has no evening). At any rate, Jacob (the penitent) has to leave it behind. Three place names now occur in Old Testament and Gospel as destinations: Haran (for Jacob), Tyre and Sidon (for Jesus).


“Tyre” is interpreted as “distress”. The penitent, on abandoning the cupidity of the world, feels distress for his past sins, and experiences the temptations of the devil, the world and the flesh. With a quotation from Job, Antony contrasts the penitent’s former sensual indulgence with his vigils, prayers and fasting now. A Biblical proverb suggests how the sated soul despises even the honeycomb (a by-word for sweetness), whereas someone who is starving will eat even bitter things.

6. The distress that comes from temptation is evoked by a passage in Isaiah, in which the prophet speaks of his distress the vision given him, overwhelming him like a desert whirlwind, or like labour pains. Antony explains that temptation may come in three ways:

  • directly from the devil’s suggestions (likened to the whirlwind);
  • from the cupidity of the world (likened to “desolation”, the loneliness of the desert);
  • or from the flesh (indicated by the “grievous vision”)

The first reminds us of the whirlwind that destroyed the house where Job’s children were, killing them. The devil’s assaults come suddenly and strongly, shaking the “four corners of our house”, the cardinal virtues, and sometimes causing it to collapse altogether. This destroys our “children”, the good works we do, the virtues we have. Such “diabolic” temptations would seem to be to hatred, malice and anger.

7. The world is like a desert, barren of good, the haunt of wild beasts which prey on the traveller. The penitent, poor and contrite, must beware. The characteristic temptation of the world is cupidity, desire for wealth, influence etc. This can sweep through the soul like a forest fire, burning the vegetation and making a wilderness. Again, Antony links it especially with religious. It is especially opposed to poverty, and makes them barren indeed.

8. Since the eyes are the windows of the soul, it is often through what we see that the instinctive movements of the flesh are aroused. Part of the technique of self-control is to avoid the occasions of sin (not just sexual, but sensuality in general, physical pleasures which divert us from the good). Antony quotes “a philosopher”, Jeremiah, Augustine and Gregory- reason, Scripture and the Fathers- on the custody of the eyes. He employs the story of the Israelite maid who directed Naaman to Elisha. A modest maiden (chastity) from Israel (the just man) is kidnapped by robbers (the eyes). She is forced to serve the wife of Naaman the leper. The leper and his wife signify the devil and the flesh, the union of which produces diseased offspring.

Alternatively, the “grievous vision” may indicate temptations of the flesh by association with nocturnal dreams, leading to pollution. This is distressing to someone trying to live chastely. Job spoke of his fear of dreams and visions- he would rather die than sin (cf. Job 7.14-15). If one becomes aware of such unchaste images, the best remedy is to get up and pray, and even chastise the body. (However, Antony points out that nocturnal emissions can arise from purely physical causes, in which case there is no sin. If they result from over indulgence in food and drink, and this is habitual, there is serious wrong. If they arise from an explicitly sexual intention, it is always serious.)

Returning to the text of Isaiah: the “desert experience” in the first part leads to the “labour pains” of the second. This is to withdraw from Beersheba to Tyre. In his temptations, envisaged as seriously distressing, the good man feels in the grip of pains he cannot escape or control, like a woman in childbirth. Antony recalls the hatred, mockery and bitterness experienced by the Israelites from the Egyptians: the devil, the world and the flesh war against the person seeking to serve God faithfully.

9. In his distress, the prophet fell down in a faint. The just man, in the face of temptation, should fall to his knees in prayer (cf. Mt 17.20- the devil is cast out by prayer and fasting). The penitent, then, having withdrawn from sin, is assaulted by temptation. He must seek “Haran” (“the heights”), the remedy that comes from on high. Christ had to suffer, in order to enter into glory (Lk 24.26). How is the penitent to climb the mountain? By Jacob’s ladder!

10. As in the previous Commentary, Antony depicts the ladder as having two sides and six rungs, but whereas these were previously given a Christological interpretation, this time he adopts a moral approach. The two sides are contrition and confession, while the six rungs are:

mortification of self-will;

strictness of discipline;

the virtue of abstinence;

consideration of our weakness;

the exercise of the active life;

contemplation of heavenly glory.

These six are related to a prophecy of Ezekiel which speaks of six kinds of seed: wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and vetches (wild oats), from which we make “loaves”. Antony relates each of these two one of the preceding rungs, although apart from the number six it is difficult to see any connection. In any case, neither ladder nor seeds are considered in any detail- possibly he only wishes to throw out a suggestion for preachers to elaborate in their own way. This section is listed as “for religious”.


11. There now follows a short section “on confession”. Jesus went to Sidon (“hunting for sorrow”), and the penitent should be like a hunter, with five pieces of equipment: a horn, a dog, a spear, arrows, and a bow. Isaac sent Esau out to hunt (another reference to the “Jacob” cycle in Genesis), and the penitent similarly goes out to earn the Father’s blessing. His arrows are the prickings of conscience, which humble him and inspire contrition. His bow is confession (recalling the rain-bow, God’s sign to Noah of his covenant with mankind).

12. The bow Antony envisages consists of four elements- two flexible horns joined by a rigid centre-piece, and a string. Confession requires sorrow for sin and fear of punishment, joined to a firm intention of amendment. The hope of pardon is like a string, joining fear to sorrow and bending their rigidity.

The huntsman also has the horn of self-accusation, the dog of a biting conscience, and the spear of satisfaction. This is a good example of Antony’s technique- although some details seem a little forced, the general image helps both preacher and listener to remember the salient points. As we prepare for confession, we are “hunters for sin”, and should check our equipment.


13. Moving o the second of the three points outlined in (2) above, we come to the Canaanite woman. The Old Testament parallel (again from the Jacob cycle of stories) is that of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter by Leah. In Matt 15.22, the woman is also said to “come out”, so she too is a type of the sinner who must go out from sin. She cries for mercy. This is the sinner’s proper prayer, a simple appeal to God for help.

14. Jesus does not answer. The Word is silent! How often, when we cry out to God, we seem to encounter only that silence! Yet God’s Word is in fact active and productive. Our experience of silence is itself illusory. The sinner must persevere, believing that only God is the fountain of mercy which can cleanse the soul. The silence of God is intended to spur the penitent to greater sorrow.


15. The Canaanite’s daughter is troubled by a devil. The concordance (explicitly so noted) to this is the story of Dinah. While visiting the women of the neighbourhood she was abducted and raped by the son of the local chieftain. Dinah’s mother was Leah (“labour”), who now parallels the Canaanite and the penitent, labouring over her soul-making. Paradoxically (and Antony notes the paradox), her daughter also represents the mind or soul, in fact identical with the penitent. Morally, says Antony, both mother and daughter represent one and the same penitent soul (one might say, seen as afflicted by sin, and as striving to overcome sin).

16. Dinah “goes out to see the women of the neighbourhood”. This is not the going-out of penitence, but a curiosity to dally with the attractions of the world, “worldly vanities”. Shechem, son of the chief Hemer, represents the devil. The various names suggest ignorance and stupidity, together with an active malice towards the good. he is “the prince of this world”, and when he sees a soul wandering carelessly, he abducts her. First he seduces her with his suggestions, and when she consents he captures her. The rape of her virginity is the sinful act itself, after which she is enslaved. The Canaanite’s daughter was, of course, held captive by the devil in a different way, but just as truly.

17. In the Old Testament story, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi come to her rescue and kill her abductors. Antony takes this as an image of Contrition and Confession which, with the swords of love and fear, slay the devil and free the soul. Again, this is a vivid and appealing image. The action-packed story acts as a mnemonic for a moral lesson.

The final prayer sums up the whole teaching: we ask to go out from worldly vanity, to contrition and confession, so that our soul may be freed from the devil and live in blessedness.

Second Sunday in Lent (First Sermon)
March 14, 2021, 7:46 pm
Filed under: St Anthony


For the last time in the Table of Themes, Antony numbers the Gospel (it is the fifth). There are in fact two Gospels for this Sunday, and so from now on Antony will simply refer to the Gospel for a given Sunday.


1. The preacher is reminded that, like Moses and the Apostles, he is called to be “on the mountain”, raised above temporal concerns by his duty to give a moral example. He climbs “by a ladder”, a reminder of Jacob whose story is told this week at Matins.

The “two tablets” entrusted to the preacher are the two Testaments, the source of all true knowledge. They teach, positively, the love of God; and, negatively, the subjection of the world and the flesh to God. however, in a further sense, the source of true knowledge is the glorious Christ.

2. The Gospel is not divided into clauses, but five stages in the story are indicated.


3. The three Apostles are given a moral interpretation, as three “virtues” or conditions whereby we ascend to the vision of Christ’s glory.

Peter represents the acknowledgement of sin, especially of pride, lust and avarice (sins of the devil, the flesh and the world).

James represents the supplanting or uprooting of these sins.

John represents the grace of the Lord, which enables us to acknowledge and uproot sin, and to do good instead.

The three Apostles are prefigured in the three men whom Saul met on the way to Bethel. The meeting took place at “the oak of Thabor”, presumed site of the Transfiguration. The oak represents constancy and reliability, while the mountain signifies the lifting up of the mind in contemplation, and “Thabor” is a reminder of our duty to give light to others. Thus the location has a three-fold reference, to self, to God and to neighbour.

The sacrifice of  three kids, or goats, represents the three kinds of sin we must acknowledge and lay before God.

The three loaves, wholesome and sustaining, represent inner humility (against pride), bodily chastity (against lust) and poverty (against avarice).

The flask of wine represents divine grace, which inebriates the will.

4. As noted above, the OT readings relate to Jacob, and in particular to his dream at Bethel (scene of Saul’s meeting) of the heavenly ladder. Jacob “sees” (recognition of sin); his name means “supplanter”; and his sleep is also an image of grace, in which we are not active but receptive.

A further image of sleep relates to Abraham’s dream: as (worldly) day wanes, horror (of sin) approaches.

In the Canticles, it is during the sleep of the senses that the heart keeps watch- another standard mystical image.)

5. The “ladder” from earth to heaven is Christ himself, incarnate God. His virtues (humility and poverty, wisdom and mercy, patience and obedience) are the steps whereby we climb to God. The Christian is exhorted to “go up” to a closer union with God, and to “go down” to give aide to his neighbour. Thee is no way to do either except by imitating Christ, who underwent suffering and death in order to encourage us on the way we must go.


6. Jesus is “trans-figured”, and we too must be re-shaped by contact with his humanity. Antony singles out four key-words: face, sun, garments and snow.

The face of Christ is the location of three senses (sight, smell and taste), which represent faith, discernment and the relishing of spiritual things.

7. “Sight” is faith, whereby we know God. Moses and the elders of Israel went up the mountain to see God, enthroned on a sky-blue pavement. This group of seers represents religious (Moses), bishops (Aaron), other clergy, the married, and all the baptised. Thus it is the whole Church which is called to go up and “see”- to have faith- not just a privileged few.

The heart of our faith is the Incarnation, the union of divine and human in Christ. Below him is the “sapphire pavement”, another image of the Church, consisting of Apostles, martyrs confessors and virgins (these are related to supposed properties of the sapphire).

8. “Smell” is good judgement, or discretion. We need to be able to “sniff out” good and evil, right and wrong. This is a moral quality. The best guarantee is personal humility and purity, since pride and “mingledness” cloud our judgement. This “nose” for virtue defends us against “Damascus”, the devil our enemy.

9. “Taste”- we “taste the goodness of the Lord”, relishing what we experience of him. Note that discernment comes between faith and experience (sight and taste). We need to judge what we can, at any point, aspire to understand and experience, and what we must simply believe.

Antony is clearly speaking to his brother friars and other religious when he deals with contemplative prayer. Reason must “die” is we are to progress in contemplation: i.e. we have to go beyond our logical, discursive reason, and simply “see” what God presents to us. Again, dscernment will tell us when and where the transition is made: it is a matter of judgement.

10. The sun, which Christ’s face was made like, has three properties: it is bright, white and hot. These qualities correspond to faith, purity and love. The essence of faith is trust in God who enlightens and reveals; purity is a “single-heartedness” which does not mix up earthly and heavenly, trying to follow both; and love is the heart of contemplation. (We note the Franciscan approach- our goal is loving rather than seeing. God is Goodness as well as Truth.) Our faces must be similarly transfigured.

11. The garments (of Christ) represent our body, which clothes our soul, and this also must be transfigured, Because the body is the instrument of the soul, its purity and submission to the higher power is vital.

The snow, paradigm of whiteness, indicates both cleanness and coolness- a freedom from passions that come from below, an ability to judge “coolly”, according to higher reason.

Alternatively, our clothes are our virtues. Divine Wisdom clothes us, and no preacher can do this himself- it is the work of God.


12. When the Christian is thus transfigured and clothed (when he has entered the contemplative life), he associates with Moses and Elijah.

Moses represents meekness and patience, being responsive to divine grace.

Elijah represents the zeal for justice which slays God’s enemies (pride, greed, lust).

The ideal Franciscan preacher is responsive to divine grace, gentle and meek- but uncompromising in exposing the true nature of sin, the enemy of the soul. The preacher desires the salvation of sinners, so justice and mercy must characterise him equally.

Antony notes a special applicability to “prelates”- bishops and other clergy who have the duty to preach in virtue of their very office. They resemble king Assuerus, apparently terrifying yet in reality merciful. Even if they must rebuke, they must do so with love, to build and not destroy. (Prelates had an authority to discipline much more extensive than that of religious preachers.)


13. The cloud reminds us of the cloud in Exodus, over the Tabernacle. It is implied that Christ is the true Tabernacle, and the Christian too is a “Tabernacle” of God. The People of God was an army, dwelling in tents in the desert, surrounded by enemies. Within the Tabernacle were articles necessary for worship, and these in fact remind us of all the points previously made. The candlestick with seven branches reminds us of the virtues (part 1), the table is preaching, the ark containing manna and a rod represent the mildness of Moses and the zeal of Elijah, the altar of the sacrifice of penitence and prayer.


16. The voice of God. Overshadowed by grace and transfigured, the Christian (like Christ) is proclaimed a child of God.

Antony prays that we may all so ascend, as to be so proclaimed.