Leo: Sermon 39.3

III. Fights are necessary to prove our Faith

As we approach then, dearly-beloved, the beginning of Lent, which is a time for the more careful serving of the Lord, because we are, as it were, entering on a kind of contest in good works, let us prepare our souls for fighting with temptations, and understand that the more zealous we are for our salvation, the more determined must be the assaults of our opponents. But stronger is He that is in us than he that is against us 1 John 4:4, and through Him are we powerful in whose strength we rely: because it was for this that the Lord allowed Himself to be tempted by the tempter, that we might be taught by His example as well as fortified by His aid. For He conquered the adversary, as you have heard , by quotations from the law, not by actual strength, that by this very thing He might do greater honour to man, and inflict a greater punishment on the adversary by conquering the enemy of the human race not now as God but as Man. He fought then, therefore, that we too might fight thereafter: He conquered that we too might likewise conquer. For there are no works of power,dearly-beloved, without the trials of temptations, there is no faith without proof, no contest without a foe, no victory without conflict. This life of ours is in the midst of snares, in the midst of battles; if we do not wish to be deceived, we must watch: if we want to overcome, we must fight. And therefore the most wise Solomon says, My son in approaching the service of God prepare your soul for temptation Sirach 2:1 . For he being a man full of the wisdom of God, and knowing that the pursuit of religion involves laborious struggles, foreseeing too the danger of the fight, forewarned the intending combatant; lest haply, if the tempter came upon him in his ignorance, he might find him unready and wound him unawares.

Leo is delving more into his military metaphor. If the previous section was on organization (and even in Leo’s day the main advantage of the Roman military over invaders was organizational), now he’s getting into the agonistic/combat section of his metaphor. As far as Leo is concerned, attacks are stepped up this time of year as people get more serious in pursuing virtue.

Leo reminds us that our main strength comes not from ourselves but through God’s grace and the presence of the in-dwelling Christ. Moving to a conceptual interpretation of the Q (Double Tradition: Matthew/Luke) temptation narrative, Leo presents it as an example for Christians. Christ battled with Satan in the desert and overcame him solely through quotation of the Scriptures—not by miraculous means, demonstrating that, with divine help, we too can defeat the demonic temptations without miracles but through proper use of the Scriptures.

Leo’s approach is that our life is one of struggles with the demonic whether we choose for it to be that way or not. A fight is inevitable—therefore prepare for it and keep your eyes open to it.