Daily Archives: February 26, 2009

Leo: Sermon 39.2

II. Use Lent to vanquish the enemy, and be thus preparing for Eastertide

Accordingly, dearly-beloved, that we may be able to overcome all our enemies, let us seek Divine aid by the observance of the heavenly bidding, knowing that we cannot otherwise prevail against our adversaries, unless we prevail against our own selves. For we have many encounters with our own selves: the flesh desires one thing against the spirit, and the spirit another thing against the flesh . And in this disagreement, if the desires of the body be stronger, the mind will disgracefully lose its proper dignity, and it will be most disastrous for that to serve which ought to have ruled. But if the mind, being subject to its Ruler, and delighting in gifts from above, shall have trampled under foot the allurements of earthly pleasure, and shall not have allowed sin to reign in its mortal body, reason will maintain a well-ordered supremacy, and its strongholds no strategy of spiritual wickednesses will cast down: because man has then only true peace and true freedom when the flesh is ruled by the judgment of the mind, and the mind is directed by the will of God. And although this state of preparedness, dearly-beloved, should always be maintained that our ever-watchful foes may be overcome by unceasing diligence, yet now it must be the more anxiously sought for and the more zealously cultivated when the designs of our subtle foes themselves are conducted with keener craft than ever. For knowing that the most hallowed days of Lent are now at hand, in the keeping of which all past slothfulnesses are chastised, all negligences alerted for, they direct all the force of their spite on this one thing, that they who intend to celebrate the Lord’s holy Passover may be found unclean in some matter, and that cause of offence may arise where propitiation ought to have been obtained.

Leo moves from typology to psychology and anthropology now. The key is that prevailing against our (demonic) enemies is only acheived by first prevailing over the self. The image that he moves to now is less martial—or at least less agonistic as there’s no direct combat involved—and more organizational. Leo cites Gal 5:17 bringing in the familiar dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit. We need to notice a few things about this, though:

  • Leo shifts the dichotomy. The language changes from flesh vs. spirit to flesh vs. mind (animus or mens).
  • This is not a simply equation between the physical and the spiritual (or mental). Leo doesn’t get into much “will” language here but when he says, “the flesh desires one thing against the spirit, and the spirit another thing against the flesh” the desire language lets us know that this is about the will, and not just a rejection of materiality in a shallow dualistic fashion.
  • Submission of the body (or the desires of the body) to the mind and its will are preferred. But it doesn’t—and can’t—stop there. In addition, the mind and its will must be in submission, through grace, to the will of God. Supremacy of the mind alone is not enough.

So, Leo here advocates fasting as tool to assist in the process of putting the body under submission to the rational will in order to properly order the whole person, forming a strong defense against temptation.