Bonaventure, Sermon III for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

by Gerardus Maiella

This is a rather late posting; the sermon itself was quite a bit longer than we had first realized, and we also encountered difficulties with the text of the Vivès Opera omnia: there were some troublesome typos which tripped us up for an embarrassing measure of time. But happily, this experience has taught us that we ought to make use of the more recent and more critical Quaracchi edition of Bonaventure’s works rather than the Vivès.

Another interesting lesson is that, at least according to the Quaracchi, the previous two sermons which we have translated are likely not even Bonaventure’s! There are several sermons which he gave for Dominica XXIII post Pentecosten which have similar expositions, but the text is quite different: this sermon here translated is, it would seem, the only one in the Vivès for that Sunday which is genuinely his. We will keep these differences of text (and the authority thereof) in mind when next we undertake to translate his sermons.

Sermon the Third.

Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole.[1] Because it is the custom of a good physician, for the comfort of the one ill, to praise the efficacy of the medicine received by extolling it in multiple ways, hence it is that our Lord Jesus Christ, the physician of bodies and souls, for the comfort of this infirm woman desiring to be saved by him, condescended to show usefully beforehand the efficacy of the spiritual medicine, that is, of the faith which heals every feebleness, when he says in the words given: Be of good heart, daughter, etc. Here there is first of all noted the divine honor of gratuitous adoption, when he says: Daughter; secondly, the tender compassion of virtuous animation, when he says also: Be of good heart; thirdly, the necessary instruction of his healing, when it is subjoined: Thy faith hath made thee whole.

He says therefore: Daughter: where there is first noted the divine dignity of gratuitous adoption; for the Lord deigns to adopt any soul whatever as a daughter because of three things, by reason of which she is assimilated to the blessed Trinity: and the first is the splendor of heavenly understanding; the second is the beauty of chastity, and of cleanness; the third is the fear of humility, and of reverence.

God firstly adopts the soul as a daughter because of the splendor of heavenly understanding. Wherefore it is said in the Psalm: “Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father’ s house. And the king shall greatly desire thy beauty.”[2] The prophet speaks in the person of the eternal Father to any soul believing in his name, when he says: Daughter, through the benevolence of adoption: Hearken through the reverence of mildness: and see through the understanding of the heart: and incline thine ear through diligence of works: and forget thy people, that is, parents of the flesh, most of all when they are parents contrary in the way of God: and the house of thy father, of temporal opulence. And rightly, because these two, namely the inordinate love of one’s parents by the flesh, and the disordered ardor for temporal things, have been accustomed to withdraw the soul from God. For without doubt, thereupon Christ, the King through excellence of dignity, will desire through the complaisance of acceptance, thy beauty, which is through the refulgence of formed faith. O deific virtue of faith, and worthy of all acceptance! truly I know not with what praises I might raise thee up. For you truly it is, who make unworthy servants so greatly exalted as to be sons of God, according to the Scripture: “He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.”[3]

Secondly does God adopt the soul as a daughter because of the beauty of chastity, and of cleanness; and of this is it said in the Psalm: “All the glory of the king’s daughter is within in golden borders, clothed round about with varieties:” as if he were to say: All glory, that is, perfect glory by essence of virtue, not vain through the boasting of pomposity, to each and every Christ who is a daughter of the eternal King, ought not to be disfigured in respect of carnal excellence, or of temporal pulchritude, or of exterior ornament; but within through perfect ordering of the heart, in golden borders, according to the threefold theological virtue, namely, of faith in believing truly, of hope in awaiting steadfastly, ad of charity in loving fervently. And well are the theological virtues compared to the golden borders: for just as the latter are for the perfect ornament of the whole material vestment, so those virtues are the ornament and complement of every virtue, or of the spiritual garment. Clothed round about with varieties, with regard to the fourfold difference of the cardinal virtues, namely of prudence in choosing the true, of justice in working the good, of temperance in moderating pleasures, and of fortitude in sustaining evils.

God thirdly adopts the soul for a daughter on account of the fear of humility, and of reverence; whence it is said: “How beautiful are thy steps in shoes, O prince’s daughter!” This prince of the kings of the earth is Christ Jesus: what is called daughter is any soul because of the fear of humility, and of subjection: but her feet are the intellective, animative, and operative power: the steps are the cogitations, affections, and operations by which the soul advances and proceeds: finally, by shoes, which are made of the hide of unslaughtered animals, are understood the examples of the saints who have fallen asleep. Whence the steps of any soul in shoes are called beautiful, when, as it were shoed and fashioned by the examples of the saints, she is provoked to thinking piously, speaking rightly, and acting well; and by such paths does she arrive at salvation. He says therefore: Daughter.

Then follows: Be of good heart: where secondly there is noted the tender compassion of virtuous animation because of the piety of compassion: for our Lord Jesus Christ animated her by saying to her: Be of good heart. Namely, first, in the wisdom of the Son, that you might be illuminated from the error of infidelity and ignorance. Second, in the clemency of the Holy Ghost, that you might be purged of the noisome deformity of guilt. Third, in the power of the Father, that you might be washed clean of the feebleness of the misery of punishment. And these three necessarily are related to one another through order. For no one is washed clean from the infirmity of punishment, except first he be illuminated from the infidelity of ignorance, and secondly be purged of the foulness of guilt. He says therefore first: Be of good heart in the wisdom of the Son, that you may be illuminated from the error of infidelity and ignorance. And of this it is said: “They that trust in him, shall understand the truth: and they that are faithful in love shall rest in him: for grace and peace is to his elect,” says the Holy Ghost.[4] They that trust in him, namely, in God, through the trust of hope in awaiting with certitude, shall understand the truth through the luculence of faith in believing faithfully, and they that are faithful in love, through the benevolence of charity in loving to the end, they shall rest in him through the efficacy of works, by serving with liberality, for grace and peace is to his elect, through abundance of recompense in receiving with delight. To this belongs that which the Psalm says: “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Sion: he shall not be moved for ever that dwelleth in Jerusalem.”[5] Secondly: be of good heart in the clemency of the Holy Ghost, that you may be purged of from the noisome deformity of guilt. Wherefore it is said: “Being confident of this very thing, that he, who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus:”[6] as if the Apostle were to say: I do not despair in considering my fragility, no indeed, I rely upon the Lord in consideration of the divine power: that he who hath begun a good plan in us through the inspiration of prevenient grace, shall perfect the good work through the removal of the corrupting guilt, by reason of which guilt no work is good that is of the gratuitous sort, nor worthy of recompense in the sight of God. He will perfect it unto the day of Christi, through the help of subsequent grace. Wherefore such is human fragility, that it is never able of itself to do any meritorious good work, except God breathe into human attempts with grace by preceding, and prosecute them by assisting. Thirdly be of good heart in the power of the Father, that you may be washed clean of the infirmity of the misery of punishment. And of this the Psalmist speaks: “To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. In thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed. Neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on thee shall be confounded. Let all them be confounded that act unjust things without cause. Shew, O Lord, thy ways to me, and teach me thy paths.”[7] The prophet says: To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul, through devotion of the mind: In thee, O my God, I put my trust in respect of the favorable answer to the petition: Let me not be ashamed, by the denial of aid. Neither let my enemies laugh at me, that is, the demons, by demonstration of furious impatience: for none of them that wait on thee through toleration of tribulation, shall be confounded by the snare of desperation. No indeed, let them be confounded by the victory over temptation, all them, that is the demons, that act unjust things without cause by introducing suggestion. Whence Ambrose says: “The molestation of demons besieges them, just as does a multitude of robbers, who throughout all the ways lay down traps, to trip up souls unseen.”[8] The devil labors to turn the soul back, laying a snare as it were from behind by recalling a past pleasure to the mind. He works also to hinder the soul by laying a snare in front of her, promising her the prosperity and pleasure of future things. He strives to corrupt her from the right side by offering the vanity of the world. He labors also to lay hands upon her by setting a snare to the left, showing the harshness of penitence; so that in all these he might seize the soul by means of snares. These snares the soul can evade, when she converts herself with complete devotion to God, humbly begging with the mouth: Thy ways of the divine precepts, O Lord, who are truth, shew to me through the gift of sevenfold wisdom, “that she may be with me, and may labour with me, that I may know what is acceptable with thee.”[9] And thy paths, as much of counsels as of examples, teach me through the infusion of manifold grace. Wherefore Gregory says: “Unless the merciful God moderate trials according to our powers, there is no one who is able to avoid the treacherous devices of the wicked.”[10] He says therefore: Daughter, be of good heart.

There follows thirdly: Thy faith hath made thee whole, where there is noted the necessary instruction of his healing. Now in order that one be saved, he is instructed so that of necessity his faith may first of all be unyielding, in believing faithfully what is true; secondly, that it be devoted, in awaiting the promises with certitude; thirdly, that it be great, in attending to difficulties manfully.

Faith ought first of all to be unyielding in believing faithfully what is true; and of this it is said: “And God put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith:”[11] as if the Apostle were to say: There is no preference in God: and this is, He put not difference, that is, he made no distinction between us Jews and those Gentiles, indeed he purifies the hearts of all believers from any darkness of infidelity and deformity of viciousness: and this by faith, namely of formed belief, which works through love: for “there is no distinction of the Jew and the Greek,”[12] but in all is he well pleased. Whence Gregory comments upon that text of Job: Who watereth all things with waters: “The grace of the Holy Ghost calls men of every sort unto his company. When it subjects the rich to itself, it does not turn away the poor: when it humbles the mighty, it does not forbid the weak to come to it: when it gathers together the noble, it at the same time embraces the ignoble: when it takes in the wise, it does not scorn the foolishness of the unlearned.”[13]

Secondly, faith ought to be devoted in awaiting with certitude the promises; whence it is said: “Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”[14] Faith is called the substance of things to be hoped for; just as the foundation, on account of its firmness, sustains the material construction, so in the substance and solidity of faith is the spiritual edifice settled and sustained; and just as the body cannot be sustained without the soul, so much as regards the being [esse] of nature, so also neither the soul without faith, so much as regards the being [esse] of grace—since “without faith it is impossible to please God.”[15] And because of this it is said: “The just shall live in his faith.”[16] And for this reason faith is called substance, or hypostasis: because by reason of its firmness it endures, and preserves on account of its virtuosity. Nonetheless, faith is called the evidence of things that appear not, because just as evidence convinces the mind, and illuminates it that man might consent to the proven conclusion, so faith illuminates the mind to assent in all things to the first truth. Whence just as the mind is directed by evidence, and the head by the eye, so the soul through the habit of faith.

Faith thirdly must be great in attending to difficulties manfully; thus it is said: “The holy ones by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises,” etc.[17] Wherefore the holy ones conquered celestial kingdoms through faith which confirms their love in the toleration of suffering or tribulation: and rightly, for “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.”[18] And they wrought justice, through faith trampling the world underfoot, in disdain of worldliness. For unless the earthly substance be despised, justice is never wrought. And so: “This is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith.”[19] And Augustine says: “He who has the truth faith of Christ does not seek to be made rich in these miseries.”[20] Moreover, they obtained promises through faith rewarding the assimilation of the God-likeness of glory. Let us therefore ask the Lord, etc.

[1] Matt. 9:22.

[2] Ps 44:11-12.

[3] John 1:12.

[4] Wis 3:9.

[5] Ps 124:1.

[6] Phil 1:6.

[7] Ps 24:1-4.

[8] Cf. IV in Luc., n. 10, and serm. 14 in Ps. 118, n 35ff. [The text as given by Bonaventure also seems to be in Maximus of Turin; cf. PL 57, coll. 419.]

[9] Wis 9:10.

[10] Moral., lib. XXIX, c. xxii, n. 46.

[11] Acts 15:9.

[12] Rom 10:12.

[13] Moral., lib. VI, c. xvi, n. 21.

[14] Heb 11:1.

[15] Ibid., v. 6.

[16] Hab 2:4.

[17] Heb 11:33.

[18] Acts 14:21.

[19] 1 John 5:4.

[20] Enarrat. in Ps. 68, serm. 2, n. 14, and all throughout serm. 36 (al. 212 de Tempore) according to the sense.