St. Bonaventure, Sermons I and II for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

by Gerardus Maiella

The following are the first two sermons of St. Bonaventure for the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost according to the old lectionary, translated from vol. 13 of the Vivès edition of his Opera omnia. We must apologize for the tardiness of these, as we had original intended to have them up this past Wednesday—but sloth and other projects prevented us. The third and final of the sermons ought to be posted sometime tomorrow.

We hope to make translations such as these a regular Sunday feature on our blog: we have been trying to make a habit of reading the sermons of St. Bonaventure for the lections at Mass each Sunday and have found his words to be fruitful and insightful. In addition, we consult the sermons of Dionysius Cartusianus from time to time, and hope to provide translations of some of his writings as well when the occasion seems opportune (e.g. on feast days which are not found in Bonaventure, and the like).

The readings for last Sunday were Phil 3:17-21, 4:1-3; Matt 9:18-26.

Dominica XXIII post Pentecosten.[1]

Sermon the First.

Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come, lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. Your daughter is your soul, deceased through guilt, over which the hand of Christ is placed through grace. Now the hand to be placed over, is the grace of His mercy. Christ’s operation does four things in us: it purges guilt, repairs nature, confers grace, and prepares for glory.

Concerning the first, that it purges guilt, this is said: My daughter is even now, etc. The raising of this daughter is the justification of the sinner’s soul, about which three things are here signified, namely, the recognition of one’s guilt, where it is said: My daughter, that is, my soul, and not that of another. For some impose the death of their guilt upon the souls of others, as was signed when one of the harlots says: “My child liveth, and thy child is dead.”[2] Likewise the swift conversion, where it says: Even now: it says not: Last year, but: Even now. “Delay not to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day. For his wrath shall come on a sudden, and in the time of vengeance he will destroy thee.”[3] “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven,” etc.[4] Woe to him, therefore, whose soul dies, not presently, but before thirty or forty years, and still he does not ask for it to be raised up. With how many tears and cries of prayers is the soul dead for forty years to be raised up, when Lazarus, dead for four days, is raised by the tears and mourning cries of Christ! Similarly the request for favor, where it says: lay thy hand, etc. O the power and the grace of this hand! “And Jesus stretching forth his hand, touched him, saying: I will, be thou made clean.”[5]

Concerning the second, that it repairs nature: “And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight”:[6] it is said of the woman who “had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years: and she was bowed together, neither could she look upwards at all.” This woman is the sinful soul. But note what St. Bernard says: “For we who are to return to the native land, three things are necessary: to will, to be able, and to know.” The sinful soul, therefore, is infirm as regards ability; she is bowed together as regards the will, and cannot look upwards as regards knowledge. Or, she is infirm in respect of spiritual things, she is bowed together in respect of corporeal things, and she does not look upwards in respect of terrestrial things. Or she is infirm in the work; the Psalmist says: “My strength is weakened through poverty.”[7] She is bowed together in disposition: “For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths to hell.”[8] For just as the soul is raised to God through the virtues, so she is thrown into confusion through sin, and is inclined to the devil. Wherefore the demons say to the soul: “Bow down, that we may go over.”[9] Likewise she does not look upwards in intention, contrary to that verse of the Psalm: “To thee have I lifted up my eyes.”[10] “The eyes of a wise man are in his head,” that is, in Christ.[11]

Concerning the third, that it confers grace: “Then there were little children presented to him, that he should impose hands upon them and pray.” Interlinearly: “That he should bless them with hand and word.” Behold those to whom the blessing of grace is conferred, because they are little children, and lowly. Note therefore, that the freedom of drawing near is given to the lowly. Wherefore he says: “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me.”[12] “Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of my burial.”[13] A Gloss reads: “He imposes his hand over little children because he gives grace to lowly ones.”[14] Likewise the confidence of coming forward, whence he says: “For the kingdom of heaven is for such.”[15] Likewise the grace of accomplishing in full, so that it says: “And when he had imposed hands upon them, he departed from thence.”[16] “Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”[17] For how are we able to inter through the narrow gate, unless we shall have become little? The gate of heaven is narrow in humility; if we should wish to enter with sound head, we ought to part with the head.

Concerning the fourth, that it prepares us for glory: “After that again he laid his hands upon his eyes, and he began to see, and was restored, so that he saw all things clearly.”[18] Twice did Christ impose hands upon this blind man: firstly, and he saw obscurely; secondly, and he saw all things clearly. In this, a twofold illumination is signified: the first, illumination through faith; the second, through hope. The first is of grace, the second of glory, in which the soul sees all things clearly. Therefore, they who see the brightness of their Creator, this concerns nothing in the creature, because they cannot see. But note that the Lord led this blind man out of the town, and spat upon his eyes, and imposed hands over him: in which it is signified that he, whom Christ shall have led out of worldly society and vanity, shall be smeared with the spittle of doctrine and wisdom: he upon whom the hand of power and grace is imposed, that one shall be able to arrive at eternal illumination.

Sermon the Second.

And when the multitude was put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand,[19] and said: Maid, arise.[20] In these words, four things are had for consideration: the multitude is put forth, Jesus enters, the hand of the maid is taken, and she is commanded to arise. In these there are signified the four things necessary for salvation, namely, that the impediment of salvation be shunned, that one reflect efficaciously upon salvation, that the will be helped to salvation through grace, and that the soul be justified from sin unto salvation.

The first is signified where it says: When the multitude was put forth: the multitude of evil society, which often impedes salvation: “Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil.”[21] Likewise note, that to leave behind this multitude is consequential for the remission of sins. Whence here, the multitude having been put forth, the maid, that is the soul, arose. Likewise for the sending of gifts: “And taking him from the multitude apart, he put his fingers,” that is, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, “into his ears.” Likewise for the contemplation of divine things; wherefore Zaccheus, because “he could not see Jesus for the crowd,” etc. Certainly, if you do not put forth from you the multitude of evil men in the world, you shall not come to the multitude of the blessed in heaven, concerning which multitude we read: “I saw a great multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,” etc.[22] Isidore writes: “Let those who long for the supernal homeland flee, not only the customs of evil men, but also their fellowship.”

The second is signified when it is said: He went in. For when man, pondering the magnitude of eternal punishments and rewards, thinks of the salvation of his soul to good effect, then Jesus, who is interpreted as salvation, goes into the house of the mind through prevenient grace. Now he goes in, in order to awaken, to guard, to live in company with. He enters in order to awaken in justification, just as is here signified. Jesus freely enters into the house of the mind, in which the deceased is mourned. Mourn therefore the death of your soul: “Make thee mourning as for an only son, a bitter lamentation.”[23] Bernard says: “If you do not mourn, you plainly do not perceive the wounds of your soul, the injury of your conscience.” He goes in, to defend in temptation: “She [Wisdom] entered into the soul of the servant of God, and stood against dreadful kings in wonders and signs,”[24] that is against demons, who reign over the perverse. Whence it is said of Satan: “He beholdeth every high thing, he is king over all the children of pride.”[25] Likewise for dwelling in company with: “Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock.”[26] Surely it is better for us that the Lord enter, than a demon, as Satan entered Judas: “And after the morsel, Satan entered into him.”[27] Yet either knocks at the gate, and gladly enters. But it is not to be opened to both; as Augustine says: “Let it be closed to the devil, and opened to Christ.”[28]

The third is signified when it is said: He took her by the hand. For just as Jesus goes into the house through prevenient grace, so he takes the hand through subsequent grace. The Lord holds each hand, while he supplies the power of efficaciously doing good works. For how would man rise, or how would he do good, unless the Lord should thus take him by the hand? Augustine writes: “Without God working, that we might will, without him cooperating, that we might be able, we are capable of nothing for works of piety.”[29]And note, that God takes the hand for arising to, for leading to, and for obtaining good things. The Lord takes the hand of man to raise him from guilt, has is signified here: the Lord takes the hand by raising man, that you might hold to the Lord by loving him: “I held him: and I will not let him go.”[30] Therefore hold the Lord in yourself through love and fear. Hold yourself in the Lord through love. [..][31] “Unless thou hold thyself diligently in the fear of the Lord, thy house shall quickly be overthrown.”[32] Similarly for leading in grace; the Psalmist says: “Even there also shall thy hand lead me” from virtue into virtue, “and thy right hand shall hold me.”[33] The left hand of the Lord will hold you through fear, and the right hand through love: “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me.”[34] Again for receiving in glory; the Psalmist says: “Thou hast held me by my right hand; and by thy will thou hast conducted me, and with thy glory thou hast received me.”[35] Certainly, he whom the Lord will not hold for glory, the devil will hold him for Gehenna: “The sole of his foot shall be held in a snare,” namely, the snare of hatred, greed, and all the other vices.

The fourth is shown when it is subjoined: Maid, arise. The maid is the soul, or the will, which in justification arises from the death of guilt: “Rise thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” O dead soul, life is given you, when it is said, Arise; for truly you arise from the death of guilt. Augustine says: “To those to whom life is offered in this age, and they refuse to receive it, they shall seek death in the inferno, and they shall not find it.” And mark you, that man must rise from the sin of the will, from the sin of action, from the sin of consuetude. And this is signified by the three deaths, of which we have spoken in the sermon Resedit qui erat.[36]

[1] Cf. Opera omnia (ed. Vivès) t. 13, p. 478ff.

[2] 1 Kings 3:22.

[3] Ecclus 5:8-10.

[4] Acts 2:2.

[5] Matt 8:3.

[6] Luke 13:13

[7] Ps 30:11.

[8] Prov 2:18.

[9] Isa 51:23.

[10] Ps 122:1.

[11] Eccle 2:14.

[12] Matt 19:14.

[13] John 12:7.

[14] Gloss.ex Bed. in Matth., XIX.

[15] Matt 19:14.

[16] Ibid., v. 15.

[17] Ibid., 18:3.

[18] Mark 8:25.

[19] Matt 9:25.

[20] Luke 8:51.

[21] Ex 23:2.

[22] Apoc 7:9.

[23] Jer 6:26.

[24] Wis 10:16.

[25] Job 41:25.

[26] Apoc 3:20.

[27] John 13:27.

[28] Augustine, In Psal. CXLI, n. 4, according to the sense.

[29] Augustine, serm. CXCIII, n. 2, according to the sense.

[30] Cant. 3:4.

[31] The Latin edition suggests that there seem to be some things missing here.

[32] Eccle 27:4.

[33] Ps 138:10.

[34] Cant. 2:6.

[35] Ps 72:24.

[36] Cf. Dominica XV post Pent., serm. II, p. 424 (ed. Vivès).