A Message to the Despairing

“Those who might be tempted to give way to despair should realize that nothing accomplished in this order can ever be lost, that confusion, error and darkness can win the day only apparently and in a purely ephemeral way, that all partial and transitory disequilibrium must perforce contribute towards the greater equilibrium of the whole, and that nothing can ultimately prevail against the power of truth.”

— Rene Guenon

On the Resurrection of the Lord

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (40/40)

Christ’s resurrection took place on the third day after his passion. Concerning the resurrection there are seven questions that must be considered.
First, how is it true to say that the Lord lay in the tomb for three days and three nights and rose on the third day?
Second, why did he not come to life immediately after dying instead of waiting until the third day?
Third, how did he rise?
Fourth, why did he hurry his rising rather than wait for the general resurrection?
Fifth, why did he rise?
Sixth, how many times did he appear after the resurrection?
Seventh, how did he bring out the holy fathers who were in limbo and what did he do there?

Regarding the first question, St. Augustine says that Christ being in the tomb for three days and three nights is a figure of speech, the last part of the first day being taken for the whole, and the first part of the third day also standing for the whole. Thus there were three days and each day had its night preceding it. The venerable Bede says this reversed the usual order of day and night, because previously day came first and night followed, but after Christ’s passion this order was changed so that the nights came first and the days followed. This agrees with the order of the mystery, since first man fell from the daylight of grace into the night of sin and then, through Christ’s passion and resurrection, came back from the night of sin to the daylight of grace.

The first day signifies the present world, as St. Gregory will says below, and the taking of the last part of the first day for the whole then signifies by how the last part of this world, i.e. the Apocalypse and the end of this world, all things are made whole again, i.e. are restituted and made perfect again. The third day, according to the same Gregory, represents the glorious world to come, and the first part of it being taken for the whole then must signify how the beginning of this world to come will be the same forever, for this glorious eternal state is not subject to degeneration, and it will be thus ‘forever’ like it is in its beginning.

As to the second question, let it be known that it was right that Christ should not rise immediately after dying but should wait until the third day, and this for five reasons.
The first is what this delay signified, namely, that the light of his death cured our double death: therefore he lay in the tomb for one whole day and two nights, so that the day could be understood as signifying the light of his death and the two nights as our twofold death.
The second reason was to prove that he had really died, because just as two or three witnesses are required for a word, so after three days one realises what has happened to him, and therefore Christ, in order to give proof of his death and to show that he had experienced death, chose to lie buried for three days.
The third reason was to show his power, because if he had risen immediately it might not be clear that he had the power to lay down his life and to rise again from death.
The fourth reason is that all that was to be restored was prefigured. Peter of Ravenna says that he willed to be buried for three days to show that he was to restore what was in heaven, to repair what was on earth, and to redeem what was in the underworld (which we might also take to mean the ‘air’, both signifying essentially the psychic domain).
The fifth reason was to represent the three states of the just. As Gregory says, for us the present life is Friday, the time when we suffer distress and pain, but on Saturday we are, as it were, at rest in the grave because after death we find rest for our soul, and on Sunday, the eighth day, we rise from that condition with the body and rejoice in the glory of soul and body. So pain is ours on the sixth day (i.e. in time), rest on the seventh (i.e. in perpetuity), and glory on the eighth (i.e. in eternity).

We see how Peter of Ravenna compares the three days to the three worlds or domains, but perhaps we might go a little further. Friday would then signify the earth (or corporeal domain), i.e. our present state, as Gregory also says, Saturday would signify the air (or psychic domain), especially in its transcendent aspect of the ‘aevum’ (as Gregory also compares it to the ‘rest’ of the saints prior to the general resurrection), and Sunday would signify heaven (or the spiritual domain), i.e. the glorious state, which Gregory says will take place generally in the world to come. So the three days corresponds both to the three modalities of space (the earth, the underworld/air, and heaven), and to the three modalities of time (time proper, aeviternity, and eternity).

Regarding the third question, namely how Christ rose, note first that he rose powerfully, i.e. by his own power.
Second, he rose happily, because he crossed over from suffering to glory.
Third, he rose usefully, because by it he drew all things to himself.
Fourth, he rose miraculously, because the tomb remained closed, just as he was born even though his mother’s womb remained closed, and just as how he came in to his disciples through shut doors.
Fifth, he rose truly, i.e. with his own true body. He gave six proofs for this. First, because the angel, who does not lie, said so, and second, by his frequent apparitions. Third, by eating he proved he was not using any magical arts. Fourth, he let himself be touched. Fifth, he showed his wounds. Sixth, by coming in through the closed doors of the house, he showed that he rose glorified.
Sixth, he rose immortally, since he was never to die again.

Note how it said that he ‘crossed over’ from suffering to glory. This use of language is quite nice, because it is in perfect accordance with the meaning of ‘transformation’, which essentially means the ‘crossing over’ from the formal to the supraformal, the crossing of the river of forms. And indeed this is the same as crossing from suffering to glory, because subjection to this world of forms causes suffering, and transcending it is glorious.
Christ entering through ‘closed’ things (the tomb, the womb, the doors) is very interesting. As De Voragine says, it shows that he rose ‘glorified’. And ‘glorified’ means nothing other than ‘spiritual’. I suppose it then signifies that the spiritual is not bound by anything, and can thus easily ‘pass through’ all boundaries (precisely because they only appear as boundaries, but really are not).

As to the fourth question, why the Lord did not wait to rise again with the rest at the general resurrection, there are three reason for this choice.
First, there is the dignity of his body, which was deified, i.e. united to his divinity. It would have been unseemly if such a body were to lie so long beneath the dust.
The second reason is the strengthening of faith, because if Christ had not risen at that time, faith would have perished and no one would have believed that he was truly God.
The third reason is that Christ’s resurrection is the exemplar of our own. For rarely do men hope for something to happen which has not happened in the past.

The fifth question asked for what purpose Christ rose. Let it be known that his resurrection procured four great benefits for us: it effected justification for sinners, taught a new way of life, stirred up hope for rewards to be received, and caused the resurrection of all.
Note also that, as is clear from what has been said, Christ’s resurrection had four distinguishing marks. The first is that while our resurrection is deferred to the end, his was celebrated on the third day. The second is that we rise through him, whereas he rose through himself, through his own power. Thirdly, we shall return to dust, but Christ’s body could not be reduced to dust. Fourthly, his resurrection is the efficient, exemplary, and sacramental cause of our resurrection. Regarding the first of these causes, the Gloss on Psalms 29:6 says: “Christ’s resurrection is the efficient cause of the soul’s resurrection in present time and of the body’s in the future.” Regarding the exemplary cause, 1 Corinthians 15:20: “Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.” Regarding the sacramental cause, Romans 6:4: “As Christ is risen from the dead, so we also may walk in newness of life.”

We come to the sixth question: how many times did the risen Christ appear? Let it be known that he appeared five times on the day of his resurrection, and five more times on subsequent days.
The first of his apparitions was to Mary Magdalene. Mary represents all repentant sinners. Indeed, he willed to appear first to her for five reasons. The first, because she loved him much. The second, in order to show that he had died for sinners, not for the just. The third, because harlots will go into the kingdom of God before the wise. The fourth, that as a woman had been the messenger of death, so a woman should be the one to announce life. The fifth, that where sin abounded, grace would superabound, as we read in Romans 5:20.
The second apparition on Easter Day was to the women as they came back from the tomb, when he said to them: “All hail!” and they approached and took hold of his feet. These women stand for the humble, to whom the Lord shows himself because of their sex and because of their affection, for they held his feet.
His third apparition was to Simon Peter, but where and when we do not know. Perhaps it was when he was returning from the sepulchre with John, or it may have happened when he went into the sepulchre alone, or in some cave or underground cavern. The name “Peter” is interpreted as meaning ‘obedient’, thus Peter here represents the obedient, to whom the Lord appears.
His fourth apparition was to the disciples at Emmaus. The name is interpreted ‘desire for counsel’ and signifies the poor of Christ, who wish to fulfil the counsel to sell what they have.
The fifth was to the disciples gathered together, and they represent the religious, the doors of whose senses are closed.
The following five apparitions occurred after Easter Day.
The sixth time was when Jesus appeared on the octave day of the resurrection, so that Thomas could touch his wound. He represents those who hesitate in believing.
The seventh apparition was to the disciples when they were fishing. They represent preachers, who are fishers of men.
The eighth time was to the disciples on Mount Tabor, by them are signified the contemplatives, because Christ was transfigured on that mountain.
The ninth was when the eleven disciples were at table and Jesus upbraided them for their incredulity and hardness of heart. These signify the sinners, whom the Lord sometimes visits mercifully.
The tenth and last apparition was to the disciples as they stood on Mount Olivet. From there he ascended into heaven.
Thee other apparitions are referred to as having happened on the day of the resurrection, but the text has nothing about them. There is the one to James the Just, the one to Joseph of Arimathea, and finally the one to the Virgin Mary. It is said that the last took place before all the others, although the evangelists say nothing about it. It is assumed that they didn’t include this because they only wanted to include trustworthy witnesses, and a mother can obviously not be trusted to speak truly about her son, whom she loves above all things. But it is certain that this did happen, as she grieved over his death more than any other, and Christ would not have neglected to console his mother while he hastened to console others. Ambrose and Sedulius also testify to this.

The fact that the Lord shows himself first to women, is due to their sex, as De Voragine says. This is because the woman is always the symbol of the sinner (for women are by their nature more closely connected to the infernal). It is then fitting that Christ first appears to a woman, either Mary Magdalene, or the Virgin Mary, to show that he comes for the sinner, and also that he comes above all to the (repentant) sinner. It is of course especially fitting that it should be a harlot to which he appears first, because the whore is both a woman and an actual sinner, making her a perfect symbol of sin.

Regarding the seventh and last question, namely, how Christ led out the holy fathers who were in Limbo and what he did there, the Gospel tells us nothing openly. Yet Augustine and Nicodemus in his Gospel give us some information. Augustine: “He came to the edge of darkness like some splendid, terrible raider. The impious infernal legions began to ask: “Whence is he, so strong, so terrible, so splendid, so noble?” They lamented their prince, the devil, for bringing Christ down to them by hanging him upon the tree. The saints, kept hostage in limbo, then threw themselves down at his feet. The Hebrew Fathers then praised the Lord, saying how they predicted his coming. Christ then ordered the gates of hell opened, and broke through the doors of bronze and cut in two the bars of iron, as David had prophesied. Then the King of Glory came and poured light into the eternal darkness, and he took Adam’s right hand first, and took him up to heaven with all the saints. He led them into paradise, where they came upon two men of great age. The one was Enoch, the other was Elijah, and neither of them had tasted death. And with them they found also the penitent thief. For these three had already been in heaven before the Descent into Hell.
Gregory of Nyssa: “All at once, when Christ came down, the eternal night of hell was filled with light, and the dark gatekeepers, beset with fear, broke the shadowy silences between them and whispered: ‘Who indeed is this terrible one who gleams with such splendour? Our hell never received such a one, never did the world disgorge the like into our cavern! He is an invader, not a debtor, a demolisher and destroyer, no sinner but a predator. We see a judge, not a suppliant, one who comes to fight, not to succumb, not to stay but to take from us what is ours.”

See how the Lord comes as a terrible raider, a terrible invader, a terrible demolisher and destroyer, a terrible predator on the hunt. A judge, a warrior, who takes what he wills. This is the Crucified transformed into the Glorious.

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!



On the Passion of the Lord

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (39/40 (deo volente))

De Voragine (mostly):

The passion of Christ was bitter in its pains, scornful in the mockery it laid upon him, and fruitful in its manifold benefits.

The pain of the passion was of five kinds.
The first was its shamefulness. It was shameful because of the place, namely Calvary, a place for the punishment of malefactors; the mode, the Cross being an instrument of punishment for thieves; and the company, namely the two thieves, of which one was saved and the other damned.

The second was its injustice. Christ had done no wrong, and there was no deceit in his mouth. The principal charges unjustly brought against him were three: that he forbade the payment of tribute, that he called himself a king, and that he claimed to be the Son of God. But when we sing: “O my people, what I have I done to you, etc.?” on Good Friday, we refute these three charges. For instead of accusing him regarding the payment of tribute, they should rather have thanked him for freeing them of paying tribute to Egypt (i.e. sin). Instead of accusing him of calling himself a king, they should thank him for the royal fare he provided them in the desert (i.e. the world). And instead of accusing him of calling himself the Son of God, they should thank him for choosing them as his vine and planting them in a very good place (i.e. in the worship of the One God).

The third pain was because it was his friends who brought it upon him. For pain is more bearable if it is caused by people who have reason to be your enemies, or by strangers or foreigners. But he suffered at the hands of friends (or rather of those who should have been his friends) and his kinsmen.

The fourth pain was the result of the tenderness of his body, as David says: “He was like the most tender little worm of the wood.” St. Bernard: “Oh Jews, you are stones! You strike a softer stone, out of which the chime of mercy resounds and the oil of love gushes.”

The fifth pain was the totality of the sensual pain.
The pain was first of all in his eyes, because he wept. The first time he wept, at the resurrection of Lazarus, it was because of love, the second time, over Jerusalem, it was because of compassion, but here, the third time, it was out of pain.
He suffered in his hearing, when insults and blasphemies were levelled at him. Against his nobility they asked: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” His power was derided: “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” and “He saved others, he cannot save himself.” His truth was denied: “You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true.” Against his goodness they said: “We know that this man is a sinner” and that he violated the Law: “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
He suffered in the sense of smell. A strong smell of decay pervaded Calvary, where bodies were left to rot.
He suffered in the sense of taste, when they gave him vinegar to drink.
Finally, he suffered in the sense of touch.
St. Bernard: “The head that angels trembled to look upon is stabbed with clustered thorns; the face, more beautiful than the faces of the children of men, is befouled by the spittle of the Jews; the eyes that outshine the sun are clouded over in death; the ears that hear the angels sin hear the taunts of sinners; the mouth that teaches angels is given gall and vinegar to drink; the feet whose footstool is adored because it is holy are fixed to the cross with a nail; the hands that shaped the heavens are spread open and nailed to the cross; the body is scourged, the side is pierced with a lance, and what more is there? Nothing is left in him except the tongue, so that he could pray for sinners and commend his mother to a disciple.”

It is said that there are three opinions about the principal seat of the soul in the body. Some say it is in the heart, others in the blood, and again others in the head. It seems that the Jews knew these three opinions, and used them all. For in order to tear his soul from his body they sought it in his head by driving thorns all the way into the brain, looked for it in his blood by opening the veins in his hands and feet, and tried to reach it in his heart by piercing his side.

We see then that the Passion was bitter in its pains, let us now see how it was scornful in the mockery of Christ.

He was mocked four times.
The first was in the house of Annas, where he was blindfolded, slapped, and spat upon. Bernard: “Your lovely face, O good Jesus, that face the angels desire to look upon, they defiled with spittle, struck with their hands, covered with a veil in derision, nor did they spare it bitter wounds.”

The second time was in the palace of Herod, who deemed Jesus a simpleton and of unsound mind because he refused to answer him, and draped him in a white robe to make a fool of him.

But why did the Lord remain silent before Herod, Pilate, and the Jews? First, they were not worthy of hearing an answer. Second, Eve had sinned by saying too much and Christ willed to make satisfaction by saying nothing, and third, no matter what he said, they would have distorted and perverted it.

The third time he was mocked was in the house of Pilate, where the soldiers wrapped a scarlet cloak around him, put a reed in his hands and a crown of thorns on his head, and bending the knee, said: “Hail, king of the Jews!”

The fourth time was on the Cross, when the Jews said: “If he is the king of Israel, let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” Bernard: “At this time he exhibits patience more than ever, commends humility, fulfils obedience, and shows perfect love.”

Bernard briefly sums up all that Christ suffered: “As long as I live, I will remember the labours that he put forth in his preaching, his fatigues in explaining, his vigils in prayer, his temptations while he fasted, his compassionate weeping, the snares set for him in arguments with his opponents, and lastly, in the insults, the spittings, the slappings, the derisive gestures, the nails, the reproaches.”

Having dealt with the mockery, let us move on to the fruits of the Passion. They can be described as threefold, namely the remission of sins, the granting of grace, and the manifestation of glory. There three are indicated in the title placed over him on the cross: “Jesus” refers to the first, “of Nazareth” to the second, “king of the Jews” to the third, because in heavenly glory we will all be kings. Augustine: “Christ blotted out past sins by remitting them, present sins by holding us back from them, future sins by giving us grace to avoid them.”

How beneficial to us the mode of our redemption was is clear for four reasons. First, it was most acceptable to God as a way of placating him and reconciling us to him. As Anselm puts it: “There is nothing more painful or difficult that a man can do for God’s honour than to suffer death voluntarily and not for debt but of his own free will, and no man can give himself more fully than by surrendering himself to death for God’s honour.” So we read in Eph. 5:2: “Christ delivered himself, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.” Augustine: “What could be so readily accepted as the flesh of our sacrifice being made the body of our Priest?” There are four things to be considered in every sacrifice: to whom it is offered, what is offered, for whom it is offered, and who offers it. Christ remained with him to whom he made the offering, could make those for whom he made the offering one in himself, and could himself be the one who made the offering and simultaneously the offering that he made.
By the offering of the Lamb of God the Eternal High Priest, who is one with the Father, makes the faithful one with him. God is both the sacrificer and the sacrificed and to whom is sacrificed, and we are incorporated in this sacrifice, as if the whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death.

Thus Augustine says that Christ is the priest through whom we are reconciled, the sacrifice by which we are reconciled, the God with whom we are reconciled, and the temple in which we are reconciled.

Second, the mode of our redemption was most apt for curing humanity’s sickness. Apt from the point of view of the time, the place, and the way the cure was effected.

It was fitting from the point of view of the time, because the Lord was sacrificed on the same day that Adam was created and fell.

It was fitting from the point of view of the place, because Adam was buried in the place where Christ suffered, or, at least, Adam was deceived in the wood of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Christ suffered and thus enlightened on the wood of the Cross. It is said that it was the same wood.

It was fitting from the way the cure was effected, because it operated through similarities and through opposites.

By similarities: man was deceived by a woman, so men were liberated by a man born of woman, mortals by a mortal, the dead by his death. Adam was formed from the virgin earth, Christ was born of a virgin. Adam was made to God’s image, Christ is the image of God. Folly came through a woman, through a woman Wisdom. Adam was naked, Christ was naked. Death came by a tree, life came by the wood of the Cross. Adam was in the desert, Christ was in the desert.

By opposites: the first man had sinned by pride, disobedience, and sensual pleasure. The second man cured us by humiliation, the fulfilling of God’s will, and physical pain.

Third, the mode of our redemption was the most efficacious way to attract mankind. In no other way could men have been more strongly drawn to love God and trust in him, without impairment of their freedom of choice. St Bernard: “More than anything else, O good Jesus, the cup that you drank—the work of our redemption— makes you lovable. That work fully justifies your claim to our total devotion: it sweetly entices, justly demands, swiftly clasps, and strongly constrains our love. For when you emptied yourself and put off your natural splendour, then your compassion shone more brightly, your love gleamed more brilliantly, your grace cast its rays more.” And regarding our trust in God, Romans 8: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, has he not also given us all things with him?” Bernard: “Who is there who would not be caught up by the hope of obtaining confidence when we attend to the way his body is disposed— the head bowed to kiss, the arms outstretched to embrace, the hands pierced to pour out gifts, the side opened for love, the feet held fast to keep him with us, his body stretched to give himself wholly to us?”

Fourth, our redemption was best adapted to accomplish the defeat of man’s ancient enemy. Job: “Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook?” Christ had hidden the hook of his godhead under the bait of his humanity, and the devil, wanting to swallow the bait of his flesh, was caught by the hook of his divinity.
Eve borrowed sin from the devil, and the interest on this debt was inherited by her descendants. This Christ took and nailed to the cross, so that mankind was made free from the debt of the usurious enemy.

Me:

We see that both the body and soul of Christ are totally assaulted. For his soul was entirely pained by the dishonour and humiliation and betrayal and injustice that befell him, and his body was entirely pained by the assault on all his senses. The Jews took the soul from his head by the crown of thorns, the soul from his blood by the nails, and the soul from his heart by the spear. His body then entirely weakened, his soul humiliated into nothing, all that remained was his spirit, which he commended into the hands of his Father. So it is with us, let the bodily for us become nothing through fasting, let the psychic become nothing through humiliation, so that the spirit may remain and be in the hands of God.

We see that in his humiliation Christ was first blindfolded, beaten and spat upon, then was clothed in white, then was clothed in red, and finally was crucified. The first corresponds to the alchemical nigredo, the second to the albedo, the third to the rubedo, and the fourth is really the extension of the third (so we might also say that the third is citrinitas and the fourth rubedo, but because of the scarlet cloak we say here that the third is rubedo).

We see that in the crucifixion all things are united. The Cross indeed is the ultimate ‘coincidentia oppositorum’. God and Man were united in Christ, Heaven and Earth were united in the Cross. We may see this easily, for the vertical line signifies Heaven, and the horizontal line signifies Earth, and the cross is the union of these lines. Christ then, united both with the Father, in his divinity, and mankind, in his humanity, is the ultimate mediator between God and Man, and this is why he is called Eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. For the high priest is indeed the mediator between God and his people. He brings up the prayers and offerings of the people to God, and brings down the blessings of God to the people. But Christ is not only the high priest, but also the offering that is brought up to God by the high priest. And in this we may say takes place according to his human nature. For he is also the God to which offering are brought up and who pours down blessings, and this we may say takes places according to his divine nature. Daring then to say something perhaps incorrectly, I would say that here is revealed the true meaning of ‘human sacrifice’ (the historical cases of literal human sacrifice of course being degenerations and misunderstandings of this primordial truth). For here we see God sacrificing Man. But we may only correctly understand is if we understand the meaning of sacrifice. For to sacrifice means ‘to make holy’. The self-sacrifice of Christ is then the deification (for nothing other must we understand by the ‘making holy’) of his human nature by his divine nature. This could only happen due to their union. Thus we see that Christ is both God, to whom is sacrificed, Man, who is sacrificed, and High Priest, the God-man who sacrifices. But the union is still not complete, for while Christ in principle deified the human nature, individual men still remained in sin. By his example then, and especially by the example of the Cross (for this sacrifice was made for men), men may be united to Christ, and since Man unites in himself the entirety of creation the entire creation is also united to Christ. The Crucifixion is then the ultimate sacrifice, in which all the participants are united and made holy, dare I even say, made God.

We see the comparisons made between Christ and Adam, the first man and the last man. The one first because he was made man by God, the second last because he made man into God. We see that, at this same cruel time, Adam was created and fell, and the Lord suffered and died. We see that, in the same place, either at Golgotha or the Cross, they both passed. For either Adam died and was buried in this hill, or he died (spiritually that is) by the wood of the tree where later the Cross was fashioned from. This is an astounding fact, which if not literally true at least is symbolically true. For the tree of knowledge of good and evil was the cause of Adam’s fall. And by the ‘good’ we may as well understand God or Heaven, and by the ‘evil’ Man or Earth. If we then recall that ‘knowledge’ is merely a mode of being, we see that the fall of Adam was the subjection to the duality of good and evil, i.e. God and Man, Heaven and Earth. Where before all these things were united in the Tree of Life, they were torn apart by that perfidious tree. But in the wood of the Cross, which is the salvation of all men, i.e. the reversal of the fall, the duality of good and evil, of God and man, of heaven and earth and whichever other names one may give to this primordial duality, is resolved. That is, the duality is ‘dissolved’ in the world and then ‘fixed’ in God. This thus we may understand by the fact that the tree and the cross were of the same wood.

Finally, we see the ancient deceiver deceived, the baiter baited, the liar lied to. For the deception is not in this, that Christ did not really take on flesh, as some heretics teach. For the bait is real, but the fish deceives himself into believing it to be a good prey, without realising the nature of it. So this ancient deceiver, called prince of this world, not because he made it, but because he deceives men into thinking it to be real (i.e. real in itself or ‘absolutely’ real), like a child playing a joke by deceiving its father into thinking that a rope is a snake, is himself deceived, because he sees only the appearances of things, not the essence, while God sees both the appearances and the essences. The Leviathan was then hooked on the divinity of Christ, taking the bait of his humanity, and by this capture his influence over men (i.e. the faithful) is removed, so that to all the path to eternal life lay open.

We will also say that it seems to us no coincidence that the Jews have been so often involved in usury, as the devil is clearly shown to be a usurer himself by the interest he demands from mankind on the debt of their mother.

If we have said anything incorrectly here it must be ascribed to the emotions in which we found ourselves while writings this blogpost.

It is said that the Christ died on this day, thirty three years after his birth, on which we base our calendar.

O Jesus, my Savior and Redeemer, Son of the living God,
behold, we kneel before Thee and offer Thee our reparation;
we would make amends for all the blasphemies uttered against Thy holy name,
for all the injuries done to Thee in the Blessed Sacrament,
for all the irreverence shown toward Thine Immaculate Virgin Mother,
for all the calumnies and slanders spoken against Thy spouse, the holy Catholic and Roman Church.
O Jesus, who hast said:
“If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you”,
we pray and beseech Thee for all our brethren who are in danger of sin;
shield them from every temptation to fall away from the true faith;
save those who are even now standing on the brink of the abyss;
to all of them give light and knowledge of the truth,
courage and strength for the conflict with evil,
perseverance in faith and active charity!
For this do we pray, most merciful Jesus,
in Thy name, unto God the Father,
with whom Thou livest and reignest,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
world without end.
Amen

On St. Mary Magdalene

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (38/40 (deo volente)

The name Mary, or Maria, is interpreted as ‘amarum mare’, bitter sea, or as illuminator or illuminated. These three meanings are accepted as standing for three shares or parts, of which Mary made the best choices, namely the part of penance, the part of inward contemplation, and the part of heavenly glory. This threefold shar is what the Lord meant when he said: “Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.” The first part will not be taken away because of its end or purpose, which is the attainment of holiness. The second part will not be taken because of its continuity: contemplation during the earthly journey will continue in heavenly contemplation. And the third part will remain because it is eternal. Thus Mary is called bitter sea because of her penance, and this is evident from the fact that she shed enough tears to bathe the Lord’s feet with them. She is called illuminator since she chose inward contemplation, because in contemplation she drew draughts of light so deep that in turn she poured out light in abundance, enlightening others. She is called illuminated because she chose heavenly glory, because she is now enlightened by the light of perfect knowledge.
Mary is called Magdalene, which is understood to mean ‘remaining guilty’, or it means armed, or unconquered, or magnificent. These meanings point to her qualities before, during, and after her conversion. Before it she remained in guilt, burdened with the debt of eternal punishment. In her conversion she was armed and rendered unconquerable by the armour of penance. After her conversion she was magnificent in the superabundance of grace.

Mary’s cognomen ‘Magdalene’ comes from Magdalum, one of her ancestral properties. She was descended of royal stock. Magdalene gave herself totally to the pleasure of the flesh, while her brother Lazarus was devoted to the military, and her sister, the prudent Martha kept close watch over all the ancestral properties. After Christ’s ascension however they sold their possession and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles.
Here we see the three fates of the rich. For either they, like Martha, devote themselves to business and the management of their wealth, and are consumed by this, or they, like Lazarus, devote themselves to the waging of war and hunting and such things, or finally, like Mary, they devote themselves to the seeking of fleshly pleasures. We might connect the first to the sin of greed, the second to the sin of wrath, the third to the sin of luxury or lust. But just as at the Ascension the properties were given up, so we give up these sins when we remember the Lord who is in heaven.

Magdalene was renowned for her beauty and riches, but she was even more renowned for the way she gave her body to pleasure – so much that her proper name was forgotten and she was commonly called “the sinner”. Meanwhile, Christ was preaching here and there, and she, guided by the divine will, went to the house of Simon the leper, where He was at table. Being a sinner she did not dare mingle with the righteous, but stayed back and washed the Lord’s feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with precious ointment. Now Simon the Pharisee thought to himself that if this man were a prophet, he would never allow a sinful woman to touch him; but the Lord rebuked him for his proud righteousness and told the woman that all her sins were forgiven.
Here we see that no matter how great the sins of someone are, if they repent and throw themselves down at the feet of the Lord, weeping copiously, they are forgiven. The Pharisee thought that the holy could be tainted by the sinful, but the Lord easily rebuked him by showing that the holy is completely unaffected by the sinful, and that a fortiori the sinful is made holy by their contact.

From then on Magdalene travelled with Jesus and the Apostles. Some years after the Lord’s Passion and Ascension, the disciples went off into the lands of the various nations to sow the word of the Lord. Blessed Maximin took Magdalene and her siblings to Marseilles. They took refuge in a shrine there, and Magdalene convinced the people there to stop sacrificing to idols. All who heard her preach were in admiration at her beauty, her eloquence, and the sweetness of her message. It is no winder that the mouth which had pressed such pious and beautiful kisses on the Saviour’s feet should breathe forth the perfume of the word of God more profusely than others could. Magdalene also convinced the governor of the province to stop sacrificing to the gods. She appeared to his wife in her dream, telling her to stop living in luxury while the saints of God died of hunger and cold. The woman neglected to do this, so Mary appeared a second time. Still she refused, so the third time she appeared to both the governor and his wife, her face afire as if the whole house were burning, and rebuked them both for letting the saints of God perish from hunger and thirst, while they laid in silken sheets and ate all sorts of meats. They were convinced and provided shelter for the Christians and supplied their needs.
The apostles are said to ‘sow’ the Word of God because in the Word are indeed collected the ‘rational seeds’ of all beings. The Word itself can thus be said to be itself the prime seed, from which all things blossom. Mary convincing the locals to turn away from idolatry tells us to also stop worshipping the things of the world. The fact that she spoke with great eloquence and grace shows how those who open themselves entirely, i.e. make themselves entirely receptive to the grace of God, thereafter pour out grace themselves. Furthermore the vice of luxury and wealth is rebuked by the saint, and the virtue of almsgiving is shown.

The same governor then asked Mary if her God could provide him with a son. She prayer and the Lord heard her prayers, so the woman conceived. The husband then wanted to go to Peter, whom Mary had called her teacher, to find out whether what she had preached about Christ was the truth. His wife insisted on going with him, doing as women do. Mary therefore put the sign of the cross on their soldiers, and they left for Rome. But the wife went into labour as the ship was in a storm, and she expired as she brought forth her son. The new-born groped about seeking the comfort of his mother’s breasts, and cried and whimpered piteously. Ah, what a pity! The infant is born, he lives, and has become his mother’s killer! He may as well die, since there is no one to give him nourishment to keep him alive! What will the pilgrim do, seeing his wife dead and the child whining plaintively as he seeks the maternal breast? His lamentations knew no bounds. Meanwhile the seamen wanted to throw the corpse overboard, as they believed it to be the cause of the storm. But the pilgrim bribed him to allow him to go to the coast and bury his wife and child there. But the ground was too hard for him to dig a grave. So he spread his cloak in a fold of the hill, laid his wife’s body on it, and placed the child with its head between the mother’s breasts. then he wept and prayed to Mary Magdalene, and went back aboard the ship. He then met with St. Peter, who told him that the Lord gives what he wills, and takes away what he wills. Peter then took him to Jerusalem and showed him all the places where Christ had been. He then gave him thorough instruction in the faith. After two years, the pilgrim went back to his homeland. By God’s will, in the course of the voyage they came close to the coast where had had left the body of his wife, and again he bribed the seaman to take him there. The little boy, whom Mary Magdalene had preserved unharmed, used to come down to the beach and play with the stones and pebbles, as children love to do. As the pilgrim’s skiff drew near to the land, he saw the child playing on the beach. He was dumbstruck at seeing his son alive and leapt ashore from the skiff. The child, who had never seen a man, was terrified at the sight and ran to his mother’s bosom. The pilgrim followed the boy, and found the handsome child feeding at his mother’s breast. He lifted to boy and said thanks to Mary Magdalene. Then his wife breathed, as if waking from sleep, and also gave thanks to blessed Magdalene. She said that the saint had shown her the same things that Peter had shown her husband. They then returned to Marseilles and found Mary with her disciples, preaching. Weeping with joy, they threw themselves at her feet, and then received holy baptism from the blessed Maximin. Afterwards they destroyed all the idols in the region and built churches to Christ. They also elected the blessed Lazarus as bishop of the city.
The woman conceiving of a son by the prayers of Mary symbolises how the Christ-child is born into our hearts by the prayers of the saints. The wife dying while giving birth symbolises how the soul dies when it gives birth to Christ. The child being kept alive by Magdalene symbolises how the soul is kept unharmed in heaven in perpetuity. The wife being resurrected symbolises how the death of the soul on earth is actually the resurrection of the soul in heaven.

At this time the blessed Mary Magdalene, wishing to devote herself to heavenly contemplation, retired to an empty wilderness, and lived unknown for thirty years in a place made ready by the hands of angels. There were no streams of water there, nor the comfort of grass or trees: thus it was made clear that our Redeemer had determined to fill her not with earthly viands but only with the good things of heaven. Every day at the seven canonical hours she was carried aloft by angels and with her bodily ears heard the glorious chants of the celestial hosts. So it was that day by day she was gratified with these supernal delight and, being conveyed back to her own place by the same angels, needed no material nourishment.
After having repented and after having spread the teaching of the Lord, the saint now wanted to devote herself to pure contemplation. The fact that she had no need for earthly food shows that she was no longer in any way dependent on the world. The fact that she was taken up into heaven at the canonical hours shows how she was already principally living in heaven.

There was a priest who wanted to live a solitary life and built himself a cell a few miles from Magdalene’s habitat. One day he saw how the angels descended and lifted Magdalene up. He hurried to this place, but when he came close his knees began to wobble, and he could not move forward. He therefore invoked his Saviour’s name and called out three times that if there was any rational creature living in that cave, they should answer him and tell him the truth about themselves. The third time blessed Mary Magdalene answered him, and told him that she was the notorious sinner who washed the Saviour’s feet, and had lived here now for thirty years. She told him that she was soon going to die, and that he should inform the blessed Maximin that on the day of the Lord’s resurrection, he should go alone to his church, where she would be present and waited upon by angels. To the priest her voice sounded like the voice of an angel, but he saw no one. He told this to the blessed Maximin, and on the appointed day he went alone into the church and saw the blessed Mary Magdalene amidst the choir of angels who had brought her there. She was raised up a distance of two cubit above the floor, standing among the angels and lifting her hands in prayer to God. She said to him: “Come closer, father, and do not back away from your daughter.” Her countenance was so radiant that one would more easily look straight into the sun than gaze upon her face. She then received the Lord’s Body and Blood from the bishop. She lay down before the steps of the altar, and her most holy soul migrated to the Lord. After she expired, so powerful an odour of sweetness pervaded the church that for seven days all those who entered there noticed it. Blessed Maximin embalmed her holy body with aromatic lotions and gave it honourable burial.
By the priest not being able to enter into Magdalene’s habitat is symbolised that those still in the merely human state are unable to enter into the holiest of places. The fact that he had to ask three times, just as Magdalene had to appear to the governor’s wife three times, is so because three is the number of heaven. The priest did not see Magdalene because corporeal eyes do not see the things of heaven, and by the fact that her voice sounded like that of an angel we may derive that this voice was also not a corporeal one. The reason Magdalene called Maximin her father is because she was entrusted to him before by St. Peter. Her countenance being more radiant than the sun symbolises the great grace that was conferred upon her, and her daily communion with the angels. The sweet odour that came from her body symbolises the sweetness of the eternal life that she attained, and the sweetness of the teaching that she had poured out onto the people during her life.

It is said that a certain knight, devoted to the saint, was killed in battle. But his parents made complaint to the Magdalene because he had died without making confession and doing penance. Then suddenly the dead knight rose up and called for a priest. he made his confession devoutly and received viaticum, then returned to rest in peace.
Here we see first of all the importance of doing penance before death, because the state of the soul at death determines the state of the soul in the afterlife. But also is shown the mercy of the Lord towards those devoted to His saints, because the man was given the opportunity to still do penance through his veneration of Mary Magdalene.

Once there was a ship sinking, and one woman, who was pregnant and in danger of drowning, prayed to Magdalene, saying that if she escaped death and bore a son, she would give him up to her monastery. At once a woman of venerable visage and bearing appeared to her, and brought her unharmed to land, while the rest drowned. The woman in due time gave birth to a son and faithfully fulfilled her vow.
The sinking ship symbolises the world, which is always sinking, i.e. degenerating and falling deeper into sin. Only those who devote themselves to God and His saints are saved from the waters, while those who do not do so perish in there.

A man was cured of his blindness by going on a pilgrimage to visit Magdalene’s body.
The curing of blindness signifies the removal of ignorance.

There was a man who wrote a list of his sins on a sheet of paper and put it under the rug on the Magdalene’s altar, asking her to pray that he might be pardoned. Later he recovered the paper and found that his sins had been wiped out.
Here is shown the usefulness of the intercession of the saints. For by their intercession our sins are forgiven by the Lord, as if they had never been there in the first place.

A man prayed to Mary Magdalene and was freed from his chains.
The freeing from chains signifies the freeing from the bonds of the world.

There was a clerk from Flanders, named Stephen, who committed every sort of evil. Yet he had a deep devotion to blessed Magdalene. Once, when he was on a visit to her tomb, she appeared to him as a lovely, sad-eyed woman, and told him to repent, and that she would never leave him until he was reconciled with God. The clerk soon felt so great an inpouring of grace in himself that he renounced the world, entered the religious life, and lived a very holy life thereafter. At his death Mary Magdalene was seen standing beside the bier, and she carried his soul, like a pure-white dove, with songs of praise into heaven.
Here we see that even if we live in great sin, as long as we stay pious the door to repentance is always open to us, and that as long as we venerate the saints they are on our side and continuously intercede for us, until we are finally converted and raised into heaven.

Mary Magdalene perished about the end of the first century.

Saint Mary Magdalene,
woman of many sins, who by conversion
became the beloved of Jesus,
thank you for your witness
that Jesus forgives
through the miracle of love.
You, who already possess eternal happiness
in His glorious presence,
please intercede for me, so that some day
I may share in the same everlasting joy.
Amen.

On St. Clement

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (37/40 (deo volente))

The name Clemens comes from ‘cleos’, meaning glory, and ‘mens’, mind. For Saint Clement had a glorious mind, in other words a mind cleansed of all stain, adorned with every virtue, and now graced with the fullness of happiness. This happiness consists in this, that in heaven our being will not be subject to death, nor our knowing to error, nor our love to resistance. Or the name comes from ‘clementia’, clemency, for the saint was a very clement man. Or, as the Gloss tells us, ‘clemens’ means mild, just, mature, and pious; and Clement was just in action, mild in speech, mature in his relations with others, and pious in his intentions.

Clement was made an orphan by the disappearance of his parents. But because his father was a noble he was still given a liberal education, in which he excelled. He listened to the philosophers, and rejoiced when they taught that the soul was immortal, but was saddened whenever they taught that it was mortal. One day the holy Barnabas came to Rome and preached the Christian faith. The philosophers ridiculed him. They asked him: “The mosquito is a tiny animal. Why therefore does it have six feet and wings as well, whereas the elephant, a huge beast, has no wings and only four feet?” Barnabas: “Foolish fellow, I could very easily answer you question if you seemed to be asking it in order to learn the truth, but it would be absurd to talk to all of you here about creatures, since you know nothing about the one who gives being to creatures. You do not know the Creator, so it is right and just that you should be in error about his creatures!” These words so touched the heart of Clement the philosopher that he received instruction in the Christian faith from Barnabas and then hurried to Judea to visit Saint Peter. The apostle completed his instruction in the faith of Christ and gave him clear proofs of the soul’s immortality.
The fact that he was an orphan symbolises how he no longer saw his origin as being in the earthly but as being in the heavenly, i.e. he found his Father heavenly rather than earthly. That the philosophers taught contrary things about the soul shows how they did not possess the whole truth. That the fool Barnabas was able to confound the philosophers shows how the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of the world. For indeed it was true what he said: how can one understand the creatures outside of the light of their Creator? Clement being converted by these words symbolises that one is converted when he moves from the consideration of the creatures to the Creator.

One day, St. Peter took Clement and his two brothers (which he had miraculously found again after they were lost) to a secluded place to pray. But an old man came and told them that there was no God, that there was nothing to worship, that there was no such thing as Providence. For all the things were controlled by chance and by the aspect of the planets at the moment of birth. The old man and the students of St. Peter discussed for a while, and eventually the old man was almost convinced, but he said that due to his personal experience of fate he could not believe it. He said namely that the stars had predicted that his wife would be taken away from him and that she would perish in a shipwreck, and that this had happened. But along with the brothers of St. Clement they had also found his mother, which was this old man’s wife, who turned out to be their father. St. Peter than revealed to the man his wife, and his sons, and they all embraced and wept copiously.
The father of Clement was shown that not all things are determined by the stars, but that the stars merely determine the dispositions of men, which are only completely followed by those who have or make no use of their reason or will. And by the refutation of his belief in his wife’s death he came to this realisation. For Providence here arranged that the old man would be delivered from his error.

The father then went to Simon Magus to meet two of his friends, who were disciples of the magician. But Simon changed the father’s face into his own, so that his own family would reject him. And thus it happened, but only St. Peter saw through the façade. Simon then caused the population of Antioch to hate St. Paul. So St. Paul sent the father who now looked like Simon to Antioch to restore his good name. Then, before the eyes of the populace, he restored the old man to his original face. The populace then honoured him greatly, and raised him to the episcopal chair. Simon was very angry, but the people chased him out of the city.
The fact that Simon Magus changed the father’s visage into his own symbolises that magicians make things appear falsely for their own gain. The fact that St. Peter was not affected by the false appearance symbolises that he did not rely on appearances at all, but was completely above them. The way Peter used the false visage for a good cause shows how God makes good out of evil.

After these events Saint Peter went to Rome and, knowing that his passion was imminent, ordained Clement as bishop to succeed him. When the prince of the apostles died, Clement, a farsighted man, took precaution for the future. He foresaw the possibility that some future pope would take what Peter had done as an example and would select and install his successor in the Church, thus making the Lord’s sanctuary a sort of hereditary possession. Clement therefore yielded his place as bishop of Rome first to Linus, then to Cletus. After them Clement was elected and compelled to preside. He was so obviously a good and holy man that he pleased Jews and Gentiles as well as all Christian peoples. He had a written list of the names of poor Christians in the several provinces and would not allow those whom he had cleansed by the sanctification of baptism to be subjected to the humiliation of public beggary.
We see how the saint accepted the office not for his own honour, nor did he want any of his successors to take the office for their own honour, or the honour of their families or dynasties (although sadly this did eventually happen multiple times throughout the history of the Church). Instead of then giving the power to the Pope to elect his successor, he gave the power to those directly beneath him to elect the supreme pontiff. But eventually he was himself elected for his good and holy behaviour, for which he was renowned by those of all traditions. For virtuous behaviour and works of mercy are renowned in all traditions. And it is evident that he did these works by the fact that he allowed no Christian to have to beg.

One time Clement converted the wife of a nobleman. The man wondered why his wife went to church so often, and entered into the church where she was praying. As he entered, Saint Clement intoned a prayer and the people responded, and Sisinius was stricken blind and deaf. His servants said: “Our master wanted to see and hear forbidden things, and was stricken blind and deaf.” Clement prayed for him and his sight and hearing were restored. Saint Peter appeared to the wife and said: “Through you your husband will be saved, in order that what my brother Paul said, ‘the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife’, may be fulfilled.” Clement then instructed the nobleman in the faith and baptised him and 313 persons of his household. Many nobles and friends of the emperor were also converted by this nobleman.
Here we see that those who desire to see things they are not ready to see are punished. For many wish to know the depths of God without purifying their hearts. But these attempts are all in vain, for only those who have achieved such a state will see God. Thus the nobleman was made blind and deaf, i.e. ignorant. But by his repentance and the prayers of the saint he was freed from his ignorance, just as we are freed from that by these things. It seems the number 313 is connected with the caste of warriors/nobility.

The emperor told Clement to sacrifice to idols or to be exiled across the Sea of Pontus, i.e. the Black Sea. Of course he went into exile. He there found a colony of Christians working in a marble quarry. He opened a new spring of water for them by striking a rock, pointed out to him by the Lamb of God. It is said that there they built 75 churches in one year. The emperor heard about this and ordered Clement thrown into the sea with an anchor fastened around his neck. When he was thrown in, the sea drew back three miles, and all the faithful walked out dry-shod and found a small building prepared by God in the shape of a temple, and within, in an ark, the body of Saint Clement and the anchor beside him. Every year thereafter, at the date of his passion, the sea receded three miles and stayed back for a week. One day a woman had to leave her son there because of the inrushing tide, but the next year she found the child there unharmed. The child said that he felt that no time had passed. St. Ambrose says of these waters that they were the path to reward for St. Clement, and that St. Peter had reached heaven by them.
From what Ambrose says, we may derive that the waters here symbolise primarily the Upper Waters. For if they symbolised the Lower Waters the saint would have been rescued from them, as we see in many other lives of the saints. His creating of a well then symbolises how through him the heavenly water of the Upper Waters flowed to the people. The receding of the sea at his feast day symbolises how at such a day the barrier between heaven and earth is removed. The child being unharmed in the temple and feeling as no time had passed symbolises how the blessed in heaven are not harmed by anything and are not subject to time. For the temple obviously symbolises heaven. The anchor is a beautiful symbol because it consists of the cross standing on the crescent moon, and thus shows the overcoming of the waters (i.e. the world) by the Cross.

The bishop of Ostia tells us that during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Michael there was a priest called Philosophus (because he was very learned), who arrived in the town where Clement was martyred. He questioned the people but most of the people were not natives and thus did not know the story of Clement’s martyrdom. The miraculous recession of the sea had also long since ceased to happen, due to the sinfulness of the inhabitants. Even before that ceased to happen barbarians had destroyed the temple where the ark with Clement’s body lay, and God had allowed this because of the townspeople’s wrongdoing. This priest then went to an island on which the martyr’s body was thought to be. They started to dig in search of the relics, and by divine revelation found the body and the anchor with which he had been cast into the sea. He then took these to Rome and they were placed in the church that is now named after Saint Clement. Many miracles occurred there.
This shows us how easily the common people forget the lives and the teachings of the saints. It also teaches us how miracles stop because of the sins of men, and how temples are destroyed for the same reason. Is it then a surprise that in our days we witness no miracles, and our temples are destroyed to make place for temples to Mammon? Let us repent, brethren, so that we may merit these things once more.

Saint Clemens died about the year 100.

Prayer of St. Clement:

We beg you, Master,
be our help and strength.
Save those among us who are oppressed,
have pity on the lowly,
and lift up the fallen.
Heal the sick, bring back the straying,
and feed the hungry.
Release those in prison,
steady those who falter,
and strengthen the fainthearted.
Let all nations come to know You, the one God,
with Your Son Jesus Christ,
and us Your people and sheep of Your pasture.
Do not keep count of the sins of Your servants,
but purify us through the bath of Your truth
and direct our steps.
Help us to walk in holiness of heart,
and to do what is good and pleasing in Your eyes
and in the eyes of our rulers.
Master, let Your face shine on us
to grant us every good in peace,
protect us by Your powerful hand,
deliver us from every evil by the might of your arm.
Grant us and all who dwell on this earth
peace and harmony, O Lord.

On St. Eustace

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (36/40 (deo volente))

Saint Eustatius was first called Placidus. He was the commanding general of Emperor Trajan’s armies. Though an idolater, he was assiduous in doing works of mercy, and his wife was his partner both in worship and in good works. They had two sons, and their father saw to it that the boys were trained in a manner befitting their high station.

Placidus’s constant care for those in need merited him the light of grace that led him to the way of truth. One day, when he was hunting, he came upon a herd of deer, among which one stag stood out by his size and beauty, and this deer broke away from the others and bounded into a deeper part of the forest. Leaving his soldiers to follow the rest of the herd, Placidus gave his full effort to pursuing the stag and did his best to catch it. The deer kept well ahead of him, however, and finally stopped at the top of a high peak, Placidus, coming near, pondered how he might capture the animal. As he studied it, he saw between its antlers what looked like the holy cross, shining more brightly than the sun. Upon the cross was the image of Jesus Christ. Christ then spoke through the stag’s mouth, as once he had spoken through the mouth of Balaam’s ass. The Lord said: “O Placidus, why are you pursuing me? For your sake I have appeared to you in this animal. I am the Christ, whom you worship without knowing it. Your alms have risen before me, and for this purpose I have come, that through this deer which you hunted, I myself might hunt you!” Placidus was stricken with fear and fell from his horse. After an hour he came to himself and said: “Let me understand what you were saying, and I will believe you.” The Lord said: “I am the Christ. I created heaven and earth. I made light to rise and be separate from darkness. I set seasons and days and years. I formed man from the slime of the earth. For the salvation of the human race I took flesh and appeared on earth. I was crucified and buried, and on the third day I rose from the dead.” Placidus, having heard these words, again fell to the ground and said: “Lord, I believe that you ARE (sic), that you have made all things, that you convert the erring.” The Lord told him to go to the bishop of Rome to be baptised, and also his family. He went home and learned that his wife had in her sleep seen the same thing. So in the middle of the night they went to the bishop of Rome and were baptised, and he took the name Eustace.
The stag was renowned with the Ancients primarily for its quality of eating snakes. They said that by its consuming of snakes its youth was renewed, and that this was the reason why they lived so exceptionally long. The white stag was also often connected with the cult of light, and was used in this way by among others the cult of Apollo, the Hindu scriptures, and also the early Christians. So the stag symbolises first of all the Good, which overcomes evil. And by its overcoming of evil it gains long life, i.e. eternal life. And it is no surprise that the Good is equated to light, just as evil is equated to darkness. And because Christ is the Supreme Good and the Light of Light, it is no surprise that he takes the stag as his vehicle. The fact that Eustace broke off from his soldiers to chase the one great stag while the rest chased the mediocre stags symbolises how those seeking after the Truth break off from the common masses who chase after the multiplicity of worldly deities. The fact that Christ spoke to Eustace on a high peak symbolises how Christ speaks to those in advanced spiritual states. For Eustace was in such a state, as is evident from his piety and works of mercy. This is also why Christ said that Eustace was already worshipping him without knowing it. For those who are pious even towards lesser deities and live virtuously and do good works already worship Christ, albeit in a wrong and imperfect and ignorant way. But to these especially is granted the illumination by which they perfect their piety, i.e. by which they move from idolatry (in the widest sense of the word) to the worship of the One God. Now Eustace asks that he first may understand, so that he may believe, and so we first seek understanding, so that our faith may be made more perfect. Christ then explains the basics of the doctrines, and Eustace affirms that He IS (all caps). For by the explanation of the doctrines the saint was able to grasp that God is Being, that which truly is. And so by all this he and his family were converted and baptised, just as we are converted and baptised by the realisation of these truths.

The morning came, and Eustatius went back to the same place. Here Christ revealed to him that he would become another Job, and told him to have courage and patience. Within a few days, all his servants were killed by a lethal plague, and his horses and herds perished. Some lawless men robbed him of his gold and silver and all his goods. Eustace gave thanks to God and fled by night with his wife and sons: dreading the shame of destitution, they decided to go to Egypt. The king and all the senators were shocked at the loss of their commander-in-chief, especially since they could find no equal to replace him. The fugitives boarded a ship, but the captain took Eustace wife as payment. Eustace and his sons came to a river, and Eustace first took his one son to the other side, and then went back to the other side to get his other son. But while he was in the middle of the river, a wolf ran out and snatched the boy that he had just put ashore, and disappeared into the forest. Eustace, despairing of this child, turned to the other one, but a lion had come and carried the boy away. Unable to go after either son, since he was out in the middle of the river, the father began to mourn and tear out his hair, and he might have drowned himself in the waters had not divine providence restrained him. Meanwhile some shepherd saw the lion carrying the boy off and went after him with their dogs and rescued the child. On the other side huntsmen pursued the wolf, and freed that boy. The huntsmen and the shepherds were of the same village, and they kept and raised the boys. Eustace however, did not know that this had happened, and wept and lamented his state, recalling all that he had lost, saying that he had it even worse than Job. He then went on and came to a certain village, where he stayed and, for a pittance, watched over the fields of those men for fifteen years, while in the next village his sons were growing up and did not even know that they were brothers. The Lord also kept Eustace’s wife in his care, for the captain of the ship died before he could touch the wife, and she had become an innkeeper. In those years the Empire was constantly harassed by enemies. The emperor remembered Placidus, and was saddened because he had found not one man equal to him. So he sent many soldiers to different parts of the world to seek him. Two men came to the village where Eustace kept watch, and recognised him by his scar. They embraced him and restored him to his former status, clothing him in fine garments and returning him to Rome. Back in Rome, Eustace surveyed his forces, and found that their number had greatly declined while he was gone, so he ordered recruits to be called up from every city and village. Thus it happened that the village where his two sons had grown up was called upon to furnish two recruits. The local people considered these young men to be the most fitted for military service, and sent them up. Eustace was very pleased to see these two physically robust and morally upright candidates, and assigned them to places in his immediate circle. Off they went to war and won a great victory, and Eustace granted the troops three days of rest in a place where, though he obviously did not know this, his wife kept a modest inn. By God’s will the two youths were quartered in this inn. Around midday the two were lounging outside and chatting about their early years, while the mother, seated at a little distance, listened intently. The older son said he only recalled that he had been on a ship and that his young brother had been taken away by a lion, and that he had been taken away by a wolf, before being rescued. The other soldier then began to weep, and said that he remembered the same events, and that thus they thus must be brothers. So they fell into each other’s arms, and kissed, and wept. The mother, having heard this story, spent hours wondering whether these could be her sons. The next day she spoke to the commander and saw his scars and recognised her husband. So she threw herself at his feet and asked him to confirm if he was indeed Placidus who was converted and became Eustace. Eustace studied her carefully and saw that she was indeed his wife. Tears of joy and mutual embraces followed, and he glorified God who comforts the afflicted. Then his wife said to him: ‘My master, where are our sons?’ He said that they had been carried off by wild beasts. The wife then told him about the two young soldiers and their story. Eustace sent for them and, upon hearing an account of their young years, knew that they were indeed his sons. He and their mother embraced them, floods of tears were shed, and kisses exchanged time after time. The whole army cheered and rejoiced, both because these people had been reunited and because the barbarians had been conquered.
This is truly a beautiful story, which almost made me tear up. But aside from the feel-good ending here, we should especially honour St. Eustace for his fortitude and constancy. For even in the times when Fortuna had taken away everything from him, he still gave thanks to the Lord. No worldly event could shake the faith he had in God. Indeed he was like another Job, but even more glorious, for he went through greater loss, and came to greater gain, just as the second Adam was more glorious than the first.

When Eustace returned to Rome, the emperor staged a magnificent banquet for him, celebrating his military victory and the finding of his wife and sons. The next day the emperor led a procession to the temple of the idols, to offer sacrifice in thanksgiving for the victory. The emperor noticed that Eustace did not offer sacrifice, and exhorted him to do so. Eustace refused, so the emperor placed him and his family in the arena, and let a lion loose upon them. But the lion lowered his head as though adoring them as saints, and meekly withdrew. Then the emperor had a brazen bull heated and ordered the four saints enclosed in it alive. Praying and commending themselves to the Lord, they entered the bull and so rendered their souls to the Lord. Three days later their bodies were taken out of the bull in the emperor’s presence. The bodies were intact, nor had the heat of the fire touched the hear or any part of them. Christians took the sacred remains, buried them in a most honourable place, and built on oratory there.
By now you should know what all this symbolises.

These martyrs suffered about the year 120.

Heroic servant of God, St. Eustace,
cast from the height of earthly glory and power
into the deepest misery,
engaged for a long time in the labour of a menial servant,
eating the bitter bread of destitution.
But never did you murmur against the severe trial
which God subjected you to.
I implore you to aid me with your powerful intercession,
that in all conditions I may resign myself
to the Holy Will of God,
and particularly that I may bear poverty
and its consequences with patience,
trusting in God’s providence,
completely resigned to the decrees of Him who humbles and exalts,
chastises and heals, sends trials and consolations,
and Who has promised to those who follow Him
in the spirit of poverty
His beatific vision throughout all eternity.
Amen.

On the Eleven Thousand Virgins

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (35/40 (deo volente))

The martyrdom of the eleven thousand virgins came about in the following way. In Britain there was a most Christian king named Notus or Maurus, who had a daughter called Ursula. She was very virtuous, wise, and beautiful, and famous because of these things. The pagan king of Anglia wished her to marry his only son. King Notus was troubled at the proposal, for he didn’t want to give a Christian woman to an idolater. His daughter however, persuaded him to yield, on the condition to they assigned her ten virgins as companions, and to her and the ten all one thousand virgins, and they would make a pan-European pilgrimage for three years, while the man she was to marry would be baptised and receive instruction in the faith during those three years. The suitor accepted and caused his father to be baptised as well.
Here we see firstly how even the pagans had good taste. For they knew that virtue and wisdom were just as important as beauty in a good queen. But let us say that they primarily desired her for her beauty, then even was made out of this lust a good thing. For because of the suitors great desire he was willing to do anything. And so he converted, which was of great benefit to him, and he allowed eleven thousand virgins to go on a pilgrimage, which was of great benefit to all who saw them. For many marvelled at such a strange sight, and were impressed by them, and surely many also were converted because of them. The number of them, 11 thousand, can simply be reduced to 11, because the multiplication by three times ten simply shows how it is present in all three domains, or ‘omnipresent’. The number 11 is then here obviously formed from 10 and 1, namely St. Ursula and then her companions. The number 10 symbolises ‘the All’ and the number 1 ‘the One’, so their combination 11, would make the One in the All, or the All in the One. And this corresponds clearly to their multiplication by a thousand, which we above said signifies the omnipresence, i.e. the omnipresence of the One in the All. And this is not strange, because the virgins travelled through the entirety of the world (i.e. Europe, for every ‘continent’ can be considered as a ‘world’ in itself), and were thus in a sense ‘omnipresent’. Now, that their pilgrimage would last 3 years is also no surprise, because 3 is both the number of Heaven and a number signifying the three domains or worlds, about which we already spoke. And the same is true for the 3 years that the suitor was instructed in the faith.

The legions of virgins then sailed across Europe in their triremes, and many prominent clergymen and nobles joined them. For example it is said that even the Pope joined them, and also the Queen of Sicily. Eventually they came to Cologne where an angel appeared and told them that they would eventually be martyred there. So the young king that she would marry was called to come as well. When after travelling for a while, they returned one time to Cologne again, they found the city besieged by Huns. The Huns killed them all, except for Ursula, which the leader of the Huns wanted to take as a wife. But she refused so he shot her and she died.
By the fact that the virgins easily sailed on the seas we may understand that they easily navigated the waters of the world, i.e. the dangers and temptations of the world. We see how convincing the courage and sanctity and virtue of the virgins was, for both the secular powers and the clerical powers were impressed by them, and joined them in their journeying. And from this we learn that both the royal and the priestly authority or subject to the prophetic authority, i.e. the authority of the saints. By the fact that the virgins and Ursula and her suitor all gained the crown of martyrdom is shown that virginity and martyrdom is to be preferred to marriage and governance. Ursula refusing the proposal of the Hun shows her great chastity. Her being pierced through the heart by an arrow symbolises how the heart is softened and ripped open by the Word of God, so that the carnal nature may be emptied out and the heart be filled with the divine grace.

It is said that an abbot once received the body of one of the virgins on the condition that he would enshrine it in a silver casket. But he didn’t do it so the virgin one day simply walked out, back to her original resting place in the abbey of Cologne.
This shows us two things. Firstly it shows us how it is a great evil to make false promises, secondly it shows us how we shall be punished if we do not give proper reverence to the saints. For the enshrining in a silver casket signifies the giving proper honour, and the walking away of the virgin signifies the saint taking away her blessing and intercession.

It is said that their passion took place in the year 238, but De Voragine notes that it is more likely to have taken place in the fourth or early fifth century.

O ye glorious virgins, fulfil now my desire,
and when the hour of death arrives,

hasten to my assistance:
be present at that terrible moment,
and defend me from the assault of the demons.
Let not one of you be then absent;
come with the Virgin Mother at your head.
If any remnant of sin still cling to me
and soil me with its stain,
remove it by your prayer.
Let the foe be aware of your presence,
and bewail his own confusion.
Saint Ursula and companions,
pray for us!

On St. Leonard

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (34/40 (deo volente))

Leonardus means the perfume of the people, from ‘leos’, meaning people, and ‘nardus’, which is a sweet-smelling herb; for Leonard drew people to himself by the sweet odour of his good renown. Or the name comes from ‘legens ardua’, one who chooses the hard tasks. Or it comes from ‘leo’, the lion. The lion has four characteristics. He has fortitude, and this fortitude is in his breast and in his head. So Saint Leonard had fortitude in his heart by the curbing of evil thoughts, and in his head by his tireless contemplation of the things of heaven. Secondly, the lion has sagacity, and this in two ways: he sleeps with his eyes open, and he erases his tracks when he runs away. So Leonard was watchful in labour and action, and, while awake, slept by the quiet of contemplation. In himself he also erased every trace of worldly attachment. Thirdly, the lion has a special power in his voice. The lion cub is born dead, but on the third day the lion roars at it and it comes alive. Moreover, his roar stops every other animal stock-still. So Leonard restored to life many who were dead in sin, and many who were dead in their bestial way of life he fixed firmly in the way of good works. Fourthly, the lion has fear in his heart, because he fears two things, namely the noise of wheels and the crackling of fire. So Leonard feared and thus avoided the noise of mundane business, wherefore he took refuge in the desert, and shrank from the fire of earthly greed, disdaining all treasures offered to him.

Leonard is said to have lived about the year 500. He was baptised and instructed by Saint Remy, the archbishop of Rheims. His parents were high nobility. The king held him in such high favour that any prisoners whom he visited were immediately released. The king wanted to bestow a bishopric on him, but he refused, longing for solitude. He preached and lived in a monastery for a while with his brother Lifard. Afterwards he lived solitary in a forest close to the city of Limoges, and preached and wrought many miracles. There he also ensured that the queen had a safe delivery of her son by his prayers. For this the king wanted to grant him money, which he refused. He then wanted to grant him the whole forest, but the saint said he only needed a part of the forest that he could ride around on his ass in a single night. The king agreed to this. A monastery was then built there, where Leonard and his monks lived an austere life. They dug a dry well and Leonard prayed and it was filled with water. He called the place Nobiliacum, because it has been given to him by a noble king.
It is no surprise that Leonard was instructed by Saint Remigius, for one of such high learning could only make his disciples into saints. We see that the saint was of good birth and great renown, even in his secular life, so that he could have easily had any high position he wanted. Preferring the religious life, he was then offered the episcopate, but he still rejected this, desiring no worldly power, not even the ecclesiastical one. Thus he rejected all things of the world and devoted himself with his brother to spreading the message of Christ while living a virtuous life. The fact that by his prayers the queen had a safe delivery symbolises how by his preaching the Christ-child was safely born in the hearts of men. He then rejects the money, but accepts a part of the forest, not for his own honour, but so that he could offer men the possibility to imitate his good life. The fact that his dry well became filled with water symbolises how by his preaching the dry hearts of men became filled with the water of life.

As we said before, the king freed anyone that Saint Leonard visited. But it is also said that all who simply prayed to him saw their bonds loosened. Such persons then brought their chains and fetters to Leonard, and many even stayed with him, serving the Lord. After his death, this continued. All the miracles that De Voragine mentions have to do with prisoners being freed from their chains by the saint.
We have already dealt extensively with the symbolism of imprisonment and chains in our blogpost on the feast of St. Peter in Chains, so we will not vainly repeat those words here.

Saint Leonardus died about 570 AD.

O Almighty God,
who hast called us to faith in thee,
and hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses;
Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of thy Saints,
and especially of thy servant Leonard,
may persevere in running the race that is set before us,
until at length, through thy mercy,
we with them attain to thine eternal joy;
through him who is the author and finisher of our faith,
thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

On St. Dionysius

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (33/40 (deo volente))

Dionysius (or Denis) is interpreted as one who flies forcefully; or the name may come from ‘dyo’, two, and ‘nisus’, elevation, hence a raising up in two forms, namely in the body and in the soul/ Or the name is derived from Diana, Venus, the goddess of beauty, and ‘syos’, god, hence beautiful to God. Or, as some think, the name comes from ‘dionysia’, which is a kind of black gem that is effective against drunkenness. Saint Dionysius was indeed one who fled forcefully from the world by perfect renunciation, who was raised up by his contemplation of the things of the spirit, beautiful to God by the beauty of his virtues, and helpful to sinners against the intoxication of the vices.
Before his conversion, Dionysius had several surnames. He was called the Areopagite after the place where he lived, and Theosophus because he was wise in the knowledge of God. Even today wise men among the Greeks call him ‘Pterigion tou ouranou’, which in Greek means wing of heaven, because he wonderfully flew to heaven on the wing of spiritual understanding. He is also called ‘Macarius’, which means blessed. After his homeland or after the philosophical school he is called ‘Ionicus’.

Dionysius the Areopagite was converted to the faith of Christ by the apostle Paul. St. Paul came to the Areopagus, which was where the nobility lived and the schools of the liberal arts were established. On the day of the Lord’s passion there was darkness over the whole earth, and the philosophers of Athens could find no natural cause for this phenomenon, as their astronomical calculations could not account for it. The Athenians then assumed that the God of Nature was suffering and the elements were suffering with him. They then built an altar to that god and put above it the title: “To the Unknown God.” Every altar namely had a title placed above it, indicating to which god it was dedicated. When the people wanted to offer holocausts and victims to this god, the philosophers said: “The god needs none of our goods: but kneel before his altar and offer him your supplications, because he does not want sacrifices of animals but piety of spirit.”
Here we see how the pagan philosophers had a proper understanding of natural religion. For by the fact that their astrology could not account for everything they realised that there were things above the stars. They called this then the God of Nature and realised that He could have no need of material offerings, but only of piety of spirit, i.e. faith and trust in Him.

When Paul came to Athens, the Epicureans and Stoics engaged him in debate. They though he was announcing new divinities, so they conducted him to the Areopagus, in order to subject this new teaching to scrutiny. And they did this because the Athenians enjoyed nothing more than hearing novelties. As Paul walked around among the shrines of the gods and saw an altar dedicated to the Unknown God, he said to the philosophers: “The god whom you worship unknown, I announce to you as the true God, who made the heavens and the earth.” Then he said to Dionysius, who struck him as being more learned in divine matters than the rest: “Who, Dionysius, is this unknown God?” Dionysius answered: “He is the true God, who has not shown himself as the other gods have. He is unknown to us and hidden from us, yet in the age to come he will be, and he will reign forever.” Paul: “Is he a man, or only a spirit?” Dionysius: “He is God and Man, but is unknown because his life is in heaven only.” Paul: “He is the God I preach to you! He came down from heaven, took flesh, endured death, and on the third day rose from the dead.” Paul then told Dionysius to cure a blind name using the formula “In the name of Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, crucified, dead, who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, see!”. Dionysius did so and the blind man was cured. Dionysius and his whole family were then baptised.
First we see the nature of the Greeks exposed. For the two things they loved most were debating and novelty. Here is already shown their degeneracy, and the foreshadowing of the Renaissance and modernity, with its deification of the dialectical reason and the perpetual love of new things. But at least the Greeks in this time still retained some divine knowledge, and at least were able to have some comprehension of the Unknown God. But they only knew God in His unmanifested state. For as Dionysius says, He had not shown himself (i.e. manifested himself) as the other gods had. Yet St. Paul adds to this conception of the unmanifested God the Incarnation, and thus makes God both unmanifest and manifest. And we know that the unmanifested God is much greater than any manifested god, but the God that is both unmanifest and manifest is greater still. On hearing this, St. Dionysius was convinced and converted. For by the miracle of the blind man coming to sight is nothing other signified then the conversion from the worldly to the heavenly.

After this, Dionysius was instructed by Paul for three years, and then ordained bishop of Athens. He preached constantly, and converted the whole city and most of its surrounding territory. It is said that Paul revealed to Dionysius what he had seen in the third heaven, which is why Dionysius discourses so brilliantly and clearly on the hierarchies of the angels. One would almost think the he had learned all this not from someone else, but that he had himself looked upon all he described. He shone with the spirit of prophecy, as appears from the letter he sent to John the Evangelist, in which he foretold that John would return from exile. He was also present at the dormition of the Blessed Virgin.
We see firstly that by good preaching the people are easily converted. De Voragine’s speculation that St. Dionysius had seen the ranks of angels with his own eyes seems to us not at all wrong. For indeed he writes so clearly of them that it is just as likely that he by the teaching of Paul was actually taken up into the heavens as that he only indirectly heard of the ranks by Paul’s teaching. Furthermore he had the spirit of prophecy, of course literally in the sense that he predicted a future event, but also metaphorically in the sense that he spoke the words of God, i.e. was a true theologian. Furthermore his presence at the dormition of Mary shows us his devotion to her, and this is also made clear by what he writes on the prime matter, namely how “the distribution of the sun’s ray passes with easy distribution to first matter, as being more transparent than all, and, through it with greater clearness, lights up its own splendours.”

When Dionysius learned that the emperor Nero had imprisoned Peter and Paul in Rome, he put another bishop in his place and went to Rome to visit the apostles. When they had migrated to the Lord, Clement became supreme pontiff. After a time Clement sent Dionysius to France. He arrived in Paris and there converted many to the faith, built a number of churches, and installed clerics of various ranks. The priests of the idols aroused the people to rebel against him, but as soon as they saw him, they either put away their fury and grovelled at his feet, or were overcome with fear and fled from his presence. The emperor Domitian than ordered a persecution, and a prefect came to Paris to persecute the Christians there. Saint Dionysius was taken captive, beaten, mocked, and spat upon, and then bound and brought before the prefect. He confessed his faith, and was stretched naked on an iron grill over a blazing fire, and he sang “Thy word is refined by fire, and thy servant has loved it.” Then he was removed from the fire and thrown before hungry beasts, but he made the sign of the cross over them and they became tame and gentle. He was thrown into an oven, but came out unhurt. They nailed him to a cross and left him there in torment for a long time, then took him down and returned him to prison. He celebrated mass in the prison and was giving holy communion to the prisoners, when the Lord Jesus, surrounded by a brilliant light, appeared to him, took the bread, and said to him: “Receive this, my beloved, because your reward is very great with me.”
We see how the people are astonished at the sight of the saint, because his countenance was radiant with light. There were two responses to this. Some people then submitted to him, others fled. So it is with us, if we see the brilliance of the great teaching of Saint Dionysius. Either we submit our minds to it and study it diligently, or we think it too great or complex for us and flee from it, deciding to put it away. The saint not being hurt by fire symbolises how the saints are unhurt by the passions. Dionysius taming the wild beasts symbolises the taming of the disordered will. Him being nailed to the cross shows how he suffered in the same way as Christ. And we see this made true when Dionysius first gives communion to his fellow prisoners, and is then given the supersubstantial bread himself by Christ. So first we see him act in the person of Christ, and then we see Christ confirm him in this act.

After this he was again presented to the judge and tortured. Finally then, his head was cut off. Instantly, the body of Saint Dionysius stood up, took his head in its arms, and, with an angel and a heavenly light leading the way to the place where he now rests in peace. Great was the melodious chanting of angels that resounded there, and many who heard it believed. Among them was Laertia, wife of the prefect, who was beheaded then and there by the pagans, and died baptised in her own blood. Her son became part of the clergy.
The symbolism of beheading has been extensively explained in my blogpost ‘On the Beheading of St. John the Baptist’, but in this case the interpretation of the ‘slaying of the mind’ especially applies, as Dionysius in his works went beyond the dialectical reason of the Greeks, and came to the full intellectual vision of the angelic states.

It is said that Dagobert, king of the Franks, held Saint Dionysius in fervent veneration, and was saved from damnation by the pleas of this saint at his judgment.

When Louis the Pious, son of Charles the Great, received from the Emperor Michael of Constantinople a copy of Dionysius’s books, translated into Latin, they were received with joy, and nineteen ill persons were cured the same night in the church of Saint Denis.

King Clovis once irreverently uncovered the body of Saint Denis, broke off an arm bone, and took it away. He went insane soon after.

Note also that Hincmar, bishop of Rheims, says in a letter to Charles the Bald, that the Dionysius who was sent to Gaul was Dionysius the Areopagite, as was said above. John Scotus Eriugena makes the same assertion in a letter to Charles. This cannot be questioned, therefore, on the ground that the dates are contradictory, as some have tried to argue.

Saint Dionysius suffered in the year 96, Dionysius then being ninety years old.

Glorious servant of God, St. Denis,
with intense love did you devote yourself to Christ,
after learning to know Him through the apostle St. Paul.
Preaching His saving name to the nations,
and bringing the knowledge and love of God,
for Who’s sake you did not shrink from martyrdom.
Implore for me a continual growth in the knowledge and love of Jesus,
so that my restless heart may experience that peace which He alone can give.
Help me by thy powerful intercession with God,
to serve Him with a willing heart,
to devote myself with steadfast love to His service,
and thereby to attain the eternal bliss of heaven.
Amen.

On St. Francis

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (32/40 (deo volente))

Saint Franciscus was born in Assisi, first named John but later Franciscus. It appears that there were several reasons for this change of names. The first was to call attention to a miracle, because he is known to have received miraculously from God the power to speak in the French language (i.e. Frankish). Hence we read in his legend that whenever he was filled with the ardour of the Holy Spirit, he burst out with ardent words in French. The second reason was to make his mission manifest: his legend says that divine providence conferred this name upon him, in order that by the unusual name awareness of his mystery might be spread more quickly throughout the whole world. Third reason, to indicate the effect that was to follow from his ministry – in other words, to make it known that he, through his own work and that of his (spiritual) sons, was to free and enfranchise many slaves of sin and the devil. Fourth reason, his greatness of soul: the name Frankish, ‘francais’, is derived from ‘ferocitas’, fierceness, the quality of high-spiritedness and impetuosity, because in the Frankish people there is a natural truthfulness and magnanimity. Fifth reason, the saint’s virtuosity in speech: his speech was like an axe that chopped out vices. Sixth, the terror he aroused in driving out demons. Seventh, his security in virtue, the perfection of his works, and his honourable dealings with others. For it is said that the term ‘franciscae’ (or ‘fascae’) is used for the axe-shaped insignia which were carried before consuls in Rome, and which stood for terror, security, and honour.

Francis, servant and friend of the Almighty, was born in the city of Assisi. He lived a vain and frivolous life until he was twenty. For then the Lord chastened him with the whip of ill health and quickly made a different man of him, and he began to exhibit the spirit of prophecy. Once when he was imprisoned, his companions bemoaned their fate while Francis alone rejoiced. Another time, when he went on pilgrimage to Rome, he put off his fine clothes and dressed like a beggar, and sat with the other beggars at the door of Saint Peter’s church. The ancient enemy tried to turn Francis away from his virtuous intention and showed him the image of a hunchback woman, warning him that he would become like her. Then however, he heard the Lord comforting him and saying: “Francis, take the bitter instead of the sweet, and despise yourself if you long to know me!” Then he found himself face to face with a leper, the sort of man he utterly abhorred; but, remembering the Lord’s word to him, he ran and kissed the afflicted man. The leper instantly vanished. Francis then hastened to the place where people with leprosy lived, devoutly kissed their hands, and left them money.
We see how the Lord rebukes and chastens us for our vanity and frivolity, in order to make us repent. For He only punishes us in this world so that we may come to the realisation of the error of our ways and convert. We see also how the saint delights in being made lowly, rejoicing in being a prisoner and desiring to appear as a beggar. And when the devil tried to scare him away from the straight path, the Lord appeared to him to tell him that indeed humility and self-negation were the way to heaven. The leper then symbolises the lowly soul, who when we kiss and embrace him disappears, i.e. is made nothing, just as the soul is made into nothing by humility and denial of self.

He then went into the church of Saint Damian to pray, and an image of Christ spoke to him miraculously: “Francis, go and repair my house, because, as you see, it has fallen into ruins!” From that moment on his soul melted within him, his compassion for Christ was marvellously fixed in his heart, and he devoted himself zealously to the rebuilding of the Church. He sold all he had and threw the money on the ground, treating it as worth no more than dust. His father then had him bound and held in custody, and he gave all his money to his father, and also the clothes off his back. Then he flew naked to the Lord and put on a hair shirt. The servant of God next called in a plain, simple man whom he took as a father, and asked him to bless him whenever his true father heaped curses on him.
We see that when the Church falls into luxury and wealth and sloth, God sends his prophets to restore her to her former glory, as He did even in the days of the ancient Hebrews. Christ then sent Francis to restore the Church and to rouse the lazy and desirous and avaricious clergy from their sleep. His soul then melted, i.e. became nothing, and he was filled only with compassion for Christ, i.e. he suffered perpetually with Christ in his heart. As an example for the others, he threw away all his possessions, treating them as nothing but dust, showing them the vanity of their greed. He became naked and wore only a hair shirt to show them the vanity of their luxury. He took a simple man as his father and took the curses of his bodily father as blessing to show them the vanity of the honours bestowed on them.

Many people, of noble and humble birth, both clerical and lay, put away the world’s vanities and followed his path. Like a father, this holy man taught them to strive for evangelical perfection, to embrace poverty, and to walk the way of holy simplicity. For this purpose he also wrote a Rule, which was approved by the lord Pope Innocent. From then on Francis began with even greater fervour to sow the seeds of the Word of God, going about from city to city and town to town.

There was a friar who seemed from the outside to be a man of remarkable sanctity but was not at all like the others in his conduct. He observed the rule of silence so extravagantly that he made his confession with nods of the head, not speaking. All the friars were praising him as a saint when the man of God came along and said: “Leave off, brothers! Do not praise his diabolical illusions to me! Let him be admonished to confess his sins once or twice a week! If he does not do this, it’s all diabolical temptation, fraud, deception!” The friars admonished this brother, but he silenced them with his finger to his lips and shook his head to indicate that he had nothing to confess. After a few days he returned to his peculiar ways, and ended his life in criminal actions.
Here we see that those who make great shows of their sanctity, by performing extravagant penances or other rules, are almost always simply desiring that honour be paid to them for their sanctity. For we see that this friar not only was honoured as a saint by his friars, but that he even believed that he had no sins to confess. This is the opposite attitude of the real saint, who is always discovering new sins to confess, however small they might be. Saint Francis then easily cut through the deception of this friar, who cared only about his outer appearances but whose heart was full of sin, and freed the friars from their stupid reverence which they paid to this man.

Prompted by the Holy Spirit, the saint once disclosed to a friar who was close to him, saying: “Today there is on earth a certain servant of God, for whose sake, as long as he lives, the Lord will not allow famine to scourge the people.” And there is no doubt that that was the situation during the saint’s lifetime. But once he was taken away, things changed. Not long after his happy death he appeared to the aforementioned friar and said: “Now you will see the coming of the famine, which, while I was alive, the Lord would not allow on earth.”
Here we see how the world is hold up by the friends of God, who are as it were the pillars or supports keeping the world from collapsing. For they bring with them always the heavenly influence, and bring harmony and order wherever they are. For by ‘famine’ we must not only understand the corporeal famine, but also the famine of the soul, namely that famine which is the deprivation of that heavenly, supersubstantial bread.

Francis loved poverty in himself and in others so much that he always spoke of his Lady Poverty, and, when he saw someone poorer than himself, he envied him and was afraid he might be outdone by him. Once, a poor man was walking by, at the sight of which Francis was moved with compassion, but his companion said to him: “Poor he may be at the moment, but perhaps in the whole province there is no one as rich as he would like to be.” The man of God said: “Quick, take off your cloak and give it to that man, and kneel down at his feet and confess your guilt!” And the friar obeyed forthwith.
We see how the saint loves poverty, by which we understand both the actual lack of material goods as well as the lack of desire for material goods. When his companion then accuses a poor man of greed by saying that his poverty was involuntary, he quickly tells him to beg for forgiveness. For this accusation was wrong in two ways. Firstly judging others is a sin by itself, especially for those who wish to live perfectly, and whose prime purpose is then to only look at their own sins, not at those of others. Secondly the accusation was done without any proof, for he could not have known the contents of the heart of the poor man. He had to then quickly beg for forgiveness, lest he be judged according to the saying that whoever judges will be judged.

There was once a secular priest called Silvester, who had a dream in which he saw a gold cross issuing from the mouth of Francis. Its high point touched the heavens, and its extended arms embraced and held the world from east to west. The priest was smitten with self-reproach, abandoned the world, and became a perfect imitator of the man of God.
We see here how the Cross is the prime cosmic symbol, which contains within itself the entire world (understood in the widest sense). For its arms extend in all directions (especially in the case of the Chrismon which contains all six prime directions (north, east, south, west, down, up)), and they reach up to heaven and out to the ends of the earth (i.e. the limits of the world). The fact that it came from the mouth of Francis shows how he had united his heart so perfectly with the Sacred Heart that he had became a perfect imitator of Christ, and Silvester became a perfect imitator of Francis and thus also an imitator of Christ.

Sometimes when he was at prayer, he heard troops of demons running around noisily on the roof of the house. When that happened, he ran outside, armed himself with the sign of the cross, and said: “In the name of almighty God I tell you, demons, whatever you are allowed to do to my body, do it! I will gladly submit to whatever it may be, because I have no greater enemy than my body, and you avenge me upon my adversary when, acting for me, you wreak punishment on it.” The demons were dumbfounded and scurried away.
We see how the blessed Francis recognises that to the demons belongs the power over his body (granted to them only by God of course), and that thus by destroying his body they are only destroying their own property. For the saint cared nothing for the corporeal, especially not for his own, and considered it even his enemy, because it kept him bound to the earth and prevented him from perpetually contemplating the Trinity. But by his reasoning the demons were confused, because they knew nothing higher than their own authority, and fled.

A friar who was a close associate of Francis had a vision and saw among the other seats in heaven, one that was particularly distinguished and glorious. He wondered who might be the saint for whom so noble a throne was reserved, and heard a voice saying: “That chair belonged to one of the fallen princes and now has been made ready for humble Francis.” Emerging from prayer, the friar questioned the man of God, asking what he thought of the vision. Francis said: “To myself I seem to be the greatest of sinners.” At once the Spirit said in the friar’s heart: ‘Know by this how true your vision was, because humility will raise the humbles of men to the seat that was lost through pride.”
First we see that the former seats (i.e. offices or states) of the fallen angels are reserved and to be taken by holy men. Further we see made true the saying ‘the first will be the last and the last the first’. For those who were first (i.e. highest) in heaven were made by their pride into the last (i.e. lowest), and those who are lowest on earth are made by their humility into the highest. For by pride is meant the thought that one is equal to God, which is the greatest ignorance, and by humility is meant the thought that one is nothing to God, which is the highest knowledge.

The servant of God had a vision in which he saw above him a crucified Seraph, who imprinted the signs of crucifixion upon him, so that he himself seemed to have been crucified. His hands, feet, and side were marked with the signature of the cross, but he with great care hid the stigmata from the eyes of all. There were some, however, who saw them while the saint was alive, and after his death many observe them. That these marks were truly the signs of the crucifixion was confirmed by many miracles, such as a monk being wounded in his hand as if an arrow had pierced it after doubting the stigmata, which was healed after he repented his doubt, and a man being healed from a sword in his throat after Francis appeared to him in a vision and removed the sword and touched the hole in his throat with his stigmata.
We see how St. Francis suffers the same wounds on his body as Christ did, to reflect how his soul suffered in the same way as Christ’s soul did. For before we read how St. Francis soul had completely melted away, so that only the compassion for Christ remained in his heart. And by ‘compassion’ we may understand literally the ‘suffering with’. So, this inner compassion was expressed in the outer compassion, namely the stigmata. But the saint tried to hide the signs, so that he could avoid being honoured for them, as we see with many other saints, who wish to avoid the praises of men and thus hide their miracles, allowing them to be only made known after their death, so that the honours bestowed on them by men would not give occasion for pride or vainglory to arise in their hearts during their time on earth. By itself, the compassion of Francis with Christ would be enough proof that the stigmata were real, because the body being perfectly in accordance with the soul is no strange thing, but the miracles may convince some who do not easily grasp the first thing, and probably did convince most of the common people.

In the city of Rome two shining lights of the world, Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, met with the bishop of Ostia, who later became the supreme pontiff. The bishop asked them: “Why do we not make some of your friars bishops and popes, since they stand out from the rest by their teaching and example?” Blessed Dominic said: “My lord, my friars have already attained a high status, if they only knew it. For my part, I cannot allow them to be raised higher, lest they pursue marks of dignity other than what they already possess.” After him Saint Francis spoke: “My lord, my friars are called Minor, lest they presume to be made greater.”
Dominic shows us how the spiritual states that his followers reached were higher than the official states of the clergy, and that taking on the worldly responsibility of those offices would only distract them from real spiritual progress, because they would become ambitious of greater offices or proud of their current office. And Francis shows us the same, for he even called his order minor so that the friars would forget all thought of higher offices. It is probably for the same reason that Francis never assumed the office of priest, but remained his whole life only a deacon.

Blessed Francis often preached to animals, especially birds. There are many miracles about him and birds, where either birds became silent when he preached to them, or where they sang with them when he sang his prayers.
The birds symbolise the angels, which become silent when they heard the beautiful preaching of the saint, because their voices were ugly and coarse compared to the words of Francis. Or they sang with and for him, for Francis was excelled in a state above all the angels, and thus they served him.

A certain man of the world heard the servant of God preaching in the church of Saint Severinus and, by God’s revelation, saw St. Francis pierced through and through by two gleaming swords in the form of a cross, one of them passing from his head to his feet, the other passing through his chest from one outstretched hand to the other. The man had never seen Francis before but recognised him by this sign. Move by compunction he retired from the world, entered the order, and finished his life in holy living.
This has the same meaning as the miracle of the Cross coming out of Francis mouth we dealt with above.

The saint’s eyesight was impaired by his constant weeping, but, to those who urged him not to weep so much, he replied: “The visitation of eternal light is not to be repelled for love of the light we have in common with the flies.”
The weeping symbolises repentance, by which we become blind to the world, and see only the eternal light with the eye of our heart.

One time he turned water into wine to cure himself from serious illness.
This has the same significance that it has in the Gospel.

Whenever people extolled the merits of his sanctity, he ordered one of the friars to insult him.
This shows again the greatness of the saints humility and hate of praise.

A friar had done something forbidden by the rule, but then repented. The man of God then ordered the delinquent friar’s cowl to be thrown into the fire, and then took it out, and the cowl was unharmed and showed not a trace of scorching.
This shows how if we transgress the law of God but truly repent, we still pass through the fiery passions of the world but are unharmed by them.

One time the saint was the guest of a nobleman. His host told him to eat everything that was set before him, in accordance with the Gospel. The saint submitted to the host’s devotion and began eating the luxurious bird that was set before him. When they were eating, an infidel came and begged an alms for the love of God. Hearing God’s blessed name, Francis sent a leg of the bird out to the beggar. The wretched man kept the gift, and the next day, while the saint was preaching, the fellow showed it to everyone and accused Francis of luxurious living. But the leg of the bird now looked like a fish, and people thought the man insane. The man was ashamed and asked for pardon, and, once he had come to his senses, the meat looked like the bird’s leg again.
We see here again the humility of the saint, who would rather submit to the hospitality of his host then resist by being proud of his own rule of fasting. The unbeliever then, seeing only the outer appearance of things, believes the saint to be engaging in luxury, and accuses him. But then the true nature of things is revealed, and it is shown that it was only a fish (a very lowly food) that he ate, by which is meant that the saint acted more lowly by eating the bird than if he had resisted and refused his host’s hospitality. The truth being revealed, the infidel then repented because he realised at last the true meaning of humility.

The saint always manifested deep reverence for the hands of priests, hands empowered to produce the sacrament of Christ’s Body. he often said: “If I happened to meet at the same time a saint coming down from heaven and some poor little priest, I would hurry first to kiss the priest’s hands and would say to the saint: ‘Wait for me, Saint Laurence, because this man’s hands have handled the Word of life and possess something suprahuman.'”
We see how the saint, who out of humility never assumed the priestly office, revered so greatly the hands of this office, i.e. the power of this office, which is able to manifest Christ in the world. He revered this power so much that he even considered it greater than the merits of the saints. We can only explain this by assuming that he was considering the office rather than the individual occupying it. For the priest acts in the person of Christ, and by this he is obviously infinitely greater than any saint. In this sense the priest becomes Christ, and sacrifices Himself to manifest Himself in the holy bread and wine. And Christ is always greater than the saints, how high of an office they might occupy.

In his lifetime he was known for his many miracles. Bread that was brought to him to be blessed by him restored health to many sick people. He changed water into wine, which a sick man tasted and recovered his health immediately. And he performed many other miracles.

Finally he was suffering from a long illness and knew that his last days were at hand. He laid on the bare ground and summoned all the friars and all the creatures to join him in praise of God. He met death joyfully and invited her to be his guest, saying: “Welcome, my sister Death!” His last hour came, and he fell asleep in the Lord.

Many posthumous miracles are ascribed to the saint. They include the resurrecting of many people, the freeing of prisoners, the healing of diseases, and the saving from water. The symbolism of all these should be evident if you have been reading my previous blogposts in this series.

O Seraphic Father, Saint Francis,
I venerate you, the living image of Christ Crucified.
Born like Him in a stable, you condemned a world which rejected you;

poor like Him you esteemed no possessions but those which are eternal;
meek and humble like Him, you counted humiliation a joy;
inflamed with an ardent charity, you burned to increase His glory;
your love transformed your whole life into one long martyrdom,
and made you strive by severe penances to satisfy the ardour of your desires,
until at last it impressed on your body the wounds
it had long before engraved in your heart,
and made you a living crucifix,
preaching sweetly to men the sufferings and love of Jesus.
Obtain for me, O Holy Father,

that I too may banish from my heart the spirit of the world;
that I may esteem poverty and humiliation above wealth and honours;
that I may mortify my passions
and advance daily in the knowledge and love of God,
until at last, 
detached from myself,
from the world,
and from all creatures,
I may live for God alone,
and like you, may say with my whole heart:
My God and My All, My Inheritance, and My Joy in time and in eternity.
Amen.
Our Most Holy and Seraphic Father Francis,
Pray for us your children who long to see you face to face.

Amen.

On St. Michael

an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (31/40 (deo volente))

Michael is interpreted as meaning “Who is like to God?” and it said that when something requiring wondrous powers is to be done, Michael is sent, so that from his name and by his action it is given to be understood that no one can do what God alone can do: for that reason many works of wondrous power are attributed to Michael. Thus, as Daniel testifies, in the time of the Antichrist Michael will rise up and stand forth as defender and protector of the elect. He it was who fought with the dragon and his angels and expelled them from heaven, winning a great victory. He fought with the devil over the body of Moses, because the devil wanted to keep the body hidden so that the Jewish people might adore Moses in place of the true God. Michael receives the souls of the saints and leads them into the paradise of joy. In the past he was prince of the synagogue but has now been established by the Lord as prince of the Church. It is said that it was he who inflicted the plagues on the Egyptians, divided the Red Sea, led the people through the desert, and ushered them into the Promised Land. He is held to be Christ’s standard-bearer among the battalions of the holy angels.. At the Lord’s command he will kill the Antichrist with great power on Mount Olivet. At the sound of the voice of the archangel Michael the dead will rise, and it is he who will present the Cross, the nails, the spear, and the crown of thorns at the Day of Judgment.

The sacred feast of Michael the archangel celebrates his apparition, his victory, his dedication, and his memorial.

There have been several apparitions of this angel. He first appeared on Mount Gargano, in Apulia. In the year of the Lord 390 there was a cattle rancher allowing his herd to graze on the flanks of this mountain. It happened that one bull separated himself from the rest and climbed to the top of the mountain. The rancher went to the top of the mountain and found the bull standing in the mouth of a cave at the top. The owner, annoyed, aimed a poisoned arrow at it, but the arrow came back and struck the one who shot it. This dismayed the townsmen, and they went to the bishop, who bound them to a three-day fast. Saint Michael then appeared to the bishop and said that he had arranged this, to show that he had chosen that place to dwell in it and to keep it safe. This bishop and the townspeople formed a procession and went to the cave, but, not presuming to enter, stood around the entrance, praying.
The mountain is a symbol of the spiritual centre, and this it is appropriate that St. Michael chooses it as his dwelling place. The same is true for the cave, which represents the ‘inner’ aspect of the spiritual centre, while the mountain on the contrary represents the ‘outer’ aspect. Furthermore it is appropriate that a bull is chosen to present the sacred cave, because the bull, by its horns, represents precisely the ‘lunar’ or ‘receptive’ function of the heart, which is, like the cave, the ‘inner’ aspect of the centre. The bull is also renowned for its blood, which is considered to have great powers. This also connects it to the heart, which orders the movement of the blood through the body. The poisoned arrow hitting the one who shoots it shows how first of all nothing can hurt the heart or the ‘luz’, for the Angel of Death may not enter into it, and by the poisoned arrow is signified this devil, who is also called the ‘Poison of God’. The fact that the bishop and the townspeople did not go into the cave shows that they were not yet completely purified, because only those that are free from all sin may enter into this place. We learn then from this that St. Michael is the protector of our hearts, which are the manifestations of the spiritual centre, which is why St. Michael is also said to be the angel guarding the entrance to Paradise, for by Paradise is signified the same centre.

The second apparition is described as having occurred about A.D. 710, at a place close to the sea called Tumba. Michael appeared to the bishop of that city and ordered him to build a church dedicated to him. When the bishop was uncertain about the place where the church should be built, the archangel instructed him to build at a spot where he would find that thieves had hidden a bull. The bishop also had doubts about how large the church should be, and was ordered to use as a measure the circuit marked by the bull’s hoofprints. On the site there were two massive boulders, and a man was able to easily lift them with the help of St. Michael. Upon the angel’s advice they broke a cleft into a very hard rock at the site, and such a stream of water poured out that even now it more than meets every need.
Again here we find the bull. But here we find that thieves have hidden a bull, which the bishop then discovers. If the bull by its ‘lunar’ or receptive quality and its powerful blood represents the heart or interior spiritual centre, then the thieves must represent the princes of the world, who take away the heart from its original act, namely the perpetual contemplation of God, and place it in the world, where it becomes ‘hidden’ through the layers of sin that begin to cover the soul that concerns itself with the things of the world. But by the aid of the holy angel we remove the dirt and find our heart again. And it is no surprise that a church is built in this place, for the church or temple signifies the ‘House of God’, i.e. His dwelling. The two boulders being lifted shows how everything is possible with the help of God (given via His angel), and how faith can move mountains. The water that flows from the hard rock represents the spiritual influence or grace that flows from the heart, which is first a hard rock allowing nothing in or out, but when softened and cracked open spews forth vivifying water.

In this same place there occurred a great miracle. The mountain on which Saint Michael’s church was built is surrounded on all sides by the ocean, but twice on the saint’s feast day a path is opened to allow the people to walk over. One such day, when a large throng was crossing to the church, it happened that a woman who was pregnant and close to her time went with them. Then the tide came in with a rush, and the crowd, terrified, made for the shore, but the pregnant woman could not move fast enough and was caught by the waves. The archangel Michael, however, kept her unharmed, in such a way that she brought forth her son in the turmoil of the sea and nursed him there in her arms. Then the waters again opened a path for her, and she walked joyfully ashore with her child.
As said, the church on the mountain signifies the spiritual centre. The ocean that completely surrounds it then symbolises the world or the realm of the air, which stands between the common folk and heaven. On the saint’s feast day a path is then opened, i.e. on such a day there is made a bridge between heaven and earth, so that either supernal influences may descend upon the earth or that the earthly creatures may be temporarily taken up into the heavens. The pregnant woman then represents the soul in which the Christ is almost born. Just before this is done, a final assault is made by the princes of the air and the forces of this world to submerge the soul under their influence, but by the aid of Michael this soul is kept unharmed by the waters, floats as it were upon them, and then brings forth the Christ in her heart. Then the waters disappear for her, and she walks to the ‘other shore’, i.e. she enters into heaven, simultaneously as Christ entered her.

Another apparition consists in the hierarchies of the angels. The first hierarchy is called Epiphany, or higher apparition, the middle on is called Hyperphany, or middle apparition, and the lowest is called Hypophany, or lower apparition. The word hierarchy comes from ‘hierar’, sacred, and ‘archos’, prince, hence sacred prince. Each hierarchy includes three orders. The highest includes Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; the middle one, as Dionysius assigns them, contains Dominations, Virtues, and Powers; and the lowest, according to the same Dionysius, comprises Principalities, Angels, and Archangels. This ordering and ranking of the angels can be understood by its similarity with the organisation of a royal court. Some among the king’s ministers work in immediate contact with him, the orders in the first hierarchy are similar to these. Other officials have duties pertaining to the overall government of the kingdom, and they are similar to the orders in the second hierarchy. There are also minor officials, who are put in charge of a particular part of the kingdom, these are similar to the orders of the lowest hierarchy.
We see that the hierarchies of the angels number nine, and thus correspond to the nine heavens. This number is quite wonderful, for it shows that they are together still imperfect, and that they are only made complete when the One is added to them, which makes 10. Furthermore it is appropriate that the angels consist of three hierarchies, all containing three orders of angel, because in this they are a perfect reflection of the Trinity. We see also the heavenly hierarchy likened to the earthly hierarchy. This makes sense because the divinely ordained king fashions his rule in the image of the Divine rule, and thus wishes to imitate not only the qualities of God Himself, but also chooses to allow the organisation of his ministers to reflect the hierarchy of the heavenly ministers.

Among the angels, the three orders in the first hierarchy are those that are close to God, with no intermediary, and are wholly turned to him. For this relationship three things are necessary: first, the highest love, and this is attributed to the Seraphim, whose name means ablaze with love; second, perfect knowledge, which characterises the Cherubim, whose name means fullness of knowledge; third, perpetual comprehension or enjoyment or possession, which belongs to the Thrones, whose name means seats, because God sits in them and rests, as he grants them to rest in him. The second hierarchy are masters, and the lowest hierarchy are ministers. The Dominations then have mastery over angelic spirits, the Principalities over good men, and Powers over demons. The Virtues minister over the performance of works, the Archangels over the teaching of great matters, and the Angels over the teaching of less important ones.

Now, let us move on from St. Michaels apparitions to his victory.

Michael and his angels have won many victories. First of all a victory was won by the archangel when he drove the dragon, i.e. Lucifer, and all his followers out of heaven. For when Lucifer wanted to be equal to God, the archangel Michael, standard-bearer of the celestial host, marched up and expelled Lucifer and his followers out of heaven, and shut them up in this dark air until the Day of Judgment. They are not allowed to live in heaven, because that is a bright and pleasant place, nor on the earth with us, lest they do us too much harm. They are in the air between heaven and earth, so that when they look up and see the glory they have lost, they grieve for it, and when they look down and see men ascending to the place from which they fell, they are often tormented with envy. However, by God’s design they come down upon us to test us, and, as has been shown to some holy men, they fly around us like holy flies. They are innumerable, and, like flies, they fill the whole air. Still, innumerable as they are, Origen is of the opinion that their numbers lessen when we conquer them, with the result that when on of them is defeated by a holy man, the tempter can no longer tempt that man to fall into the vice into which he had failed to draw him.
We see here how the world is made up out of three domains, namely heaven and earth and the middle space between them called the air. In the first the angels dwell, in the second men, and in the third then the demons. Furthermore we see that the number of demons is indefinite, because they are not bound by matter. It is also shown how God allows men to be tempted according to their abilities, and how when a demon is overcome by a saint he is no longer tempted by it. Many examples of this happening have we read in the Golden Legend, and we have noted it a couple times in previous blogposts in this series.

Second of all a victory is won in the sense that the angels win over the demons every day, when they fight for us and save us from the demons’ effort to tempt us. The angels do this in three way: first, by curbing the power that belongs to the demons, second, by cooling concupiscence, third, by impressing on our minds the memory of the Lord’s passion.

Third of all is the victory that Michael the archangels is to win over the Antichrist when he kills him. Then Michael the great prince, as Daniel calls him, will rise and stand forth, a valorous aid and protector against the Antichrist. The Antichrist, as the Gloss says on the text in Revelation “I saw one of his heads as it were slain to death”, will pretend to be dead and will hide for three days, then will appear and say that he is resurrected, and, with demons carrying him by their magical arts, will rise in the air, and all will be amazed and will adore him. Finally he will go to the top of Mount Olivet, will sit in his tent and on his throne, at that place from which the Lord ascended, and Michael will come and slay him.
Note how the Antichrist wishes to imitate Christ, by pretending to lay dead for three days and then pretending to resurrect, and by appearing gloriously in the air, and by sitting in the throne of our Lord. But the archangel Michael easily cuts through this deception, and cuts down the pretender to the throne.

And we might understand these three battles as really being the same fight, for what is said about Michael’s threefold battle may be understood as referring inclusively to the fight he had with Lucifer when he expelled him from heaven, the one with the demons to keep them from doing us too much harm on earth, and the battle with the Antichrist at the end of the world.

Now we move from the consideration of victory to the consideration of dedication.

As we before described, on this feast day the archangel Michael revealed that he dedicated the place on Mount Gargano. The people had doubts about whether they should dedicate the cave or even enter it. The bishop therefore consulted Pope Pelagius about this, and the pope answered, declaring that Michael would tell them what his will was on the matter. The pope, the bishop, and the people then joined in a three-day fast, and on this very day Michael appeared to the bishop and said that there was no need for him to dedicate the church, because he himself had founded it, built it, and dedicated it. They then entered the cave and found a vast cavern, in which two altars stood on the south side and one to the east. This last altar was of imposing dimensions and was covered all around with a red mantle. Mass was then celebrated, and after receiving holy communion the people went their several ways rejoicing. The bishop appointed priests and clerics to celebrate the divine office there continually. In this same cave a clear, sweet water flowed. The people drank it after communion and were cured of whatever diseases they had. When the pope was informed of these events, he decreed that this day should be celebrated throughout the world in honour of Saint Michael and all the blessed spirits.
The same things which we said before about the symbolism of the mountain, the cave, and the water apply here. We may add that it is appropriate that there is a pair of lesser altars on the south and a single great one on the east, because the direction of the south corresponds to the sign of Capricorn and the ‘janua inferni’, which is the gate through which duality and multiplicity enter, while the direction of the east corresponds to the morning and the birth of the Sun, who is the source of unity.

Lastly then, we will move on from dedication to commemoration or memorial. But we do not only commemorate St. Michael, but all the angels, and honour all of them together. There are many reasons for our honouring and praising the angels. They are our guardians, our servants, our brothers, and our fellow citizens; they carry our souls into heaven; they present our prayers before God; they are the noble soldiers of the eternal King and the consolers of the aflicted.

First then, we owe them honour because they are our guardians. To every man two angels are given, one good and the other bad, the bad one to test him and the good one to protect him. The guardianship of the angel can be said to have a fourfold effect upon a man.
The first is that his soul makes progress in gaining grace, and this is done in three ways. One is by removing every obstacle to doing good, the second is by shaking us out of our slothfulness, and the third is by leading man back to the path of penance.
The second effect is that it keeps man from falling into the evil of sin, and this is also done in three ways. The first is by preventing him from committing a sin that he is thinking of committing, the second is by reproaching wrongdoers for a wrong already done, the third is by doing violence, as it were, to put a stop to the commission of sin.
The third effect is that if someone falls he is made to get up again, and this is again done in three ways. The first way is by moving the sinner to repentance, the second way is by purging the lips in preparation for confession, the third way is by rejoicing when penance is done for sin.

Secondly, we must honour the angels because they are our servants. They minister to us, all are sent for our sake – the highest orders to the middle orders, these to the lowest orders, and the lowest to us. The good angels are sent to inflame our hearts with love, and because of this they ride in a fiery chariot. They are sent also to enlighten our understanding and bring us to knowledge, as is shown in a figure in the angel who held an open book in his hand. And they come to strengthen any weakness in us to the limit of our need, as we see when the angel brought to Elijah a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water, on which sustenance he walked forty days and forty nights, to Horeb the mountain of God.

Thirdly, we should honour the angels because they are our brothers and fellow citizens. All the elect are assumed to the angelic orders, some to the highest, some to the lowest, and some to the middle orders, according to the diversity of their merits. The Blessed Virgin is, of course, above all of them. Saint Gregory, in one of his homilies, confirms this truth. He gives a description of what kind of man will be in what order of the angel according to the description of the orders we have given above (e.g. those in the order of angels are those who know little but graciously teach others what they know, those in the order of archangels know the highest of the secrets of heaven and make them known, and so on).

Fourthly, we are to honour the angels because it is they who bear our souls op to heaven, and this they do in three ways. The first is by preparing the way, the second is by conveying the souls to heaven along the prepared way, the third is by putting the souls in their place in heaven.

Fifthly, the angels are to be honoured because it is they who present our prayers before God. St. Bernard, in his book on the Song of Solomon, says: “The angel runs as a mediator between God the beloved and the beloved supplicant, offering the supplicant’s prayers, and bringing back God’s gifts, stirring up the petitioner, appeasing God.”

Sixthly, we should honour the angels because they are the noble soldiers of the eternal King. And the hierarchies of angels also are reflected in the hierarchies of the military.

Seventhly and lastly, the angels are to be honoured because they console those in tribulation. This they do in three ways. First, they comfort and strengthen, as we find in Daniel. Second, they preserve us from impatience. Third, they cool and allay affliction, which is typified by the three young men in the fiery furnace, in the middle of which it was as if a dewy breeze were blowing.

St. Michael the archangel obviously has never died.

Blessed Michael, archangel,
defend us in the hour of conflict.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil
(may God restrain him, we humbly pray):
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God thrust Satan down to hell
and with him those other wicked spirits
who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.
Amen