Tag Archives: Leonine Lent

Leo: Sermon 40.5

5. And still further it should lead to personal amendment and domestic harmony

But, beloved, in this opportunity for the virtues’ exercise there are also other notable crowns, to be won by no dispersing abroad of granaries, by no disbursement of money, if wantonness is repelled, if drunkenness is abandoned, and the lusts of the flesh tamed by the laws of chastity: if hatreds pass into affection, if enmities be turned into peace, if meekness extinguishes wrath, if gentleness forgives wrongs, if in fine the conduct of master and of slaves is so well ordered that the rule of the one is milder, and the discipline of the other is more complete. It is by such observances then, dearly-beloved, that God’s mercy will be gained, the charge of sin wiped out, and the adorable Easter festival devoutly kept. And this the pious Emperors of the Roman world have long guarded with holy observance; for in honour of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection they bend their lofty power, and relaxing the severity of their decrees set free many of their prisoners: so that on the days when the world is saved by the Divine mercy, their clemency, which is modelled on the Heavenly goodness, may be zealously followed by us. Let Christian peoples then imitate their princes, and be incited to forbearance in their homes by these royal examples. For it is not right that private laws should be severer than public. Let faults be forgiven, let bonds be loosed, offences wiped out, designs of vengeance fall through, that the holy festival through the Divine and human grace may find all happy, all innocent: through our Lord Jesus Christ Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns God for endless ages of ages. Amen.

Leo concludes the sermon with a call to forgiveness and forebearance. Among the other good deeds and good habits that we strive to bring to flower during Lent, let us not forget that it is the merciful who will receive mercy and in forgiving others that we are forgiven.

Leo: Sermon 40.4

4. The Fast should not end with abstinence from food, but lead to good deeds

Therefore, dearly-beloved, seeing that, as we are taught by our Redeemer’s precept, man lives not in bread alone, but in every word of God , and it is right that Christian people, whatever the amount of their abstinence, should rather desire to satisfy themselves with the Word of God than with bodily food, let us with ready devotion and eager faith enter upon the celebration of the solemn fast, not with barren abstinence from food, which is often imposed on us by weakliness of body, or the disease of avarice, but in bountiful benevolence: that in truth we may be of those of whom the very Truth speaks, blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled Matthew 5:6 . Let works of piety, therefore, be our delight, and let us be filled with those kinds of food which feed us for eternity. Let us rejoice in the replenishment of the poor, whom our bounty has satisfied. Let us delight in the clothing of those whose nakedness we have covered with needful raiment. Let our humaneness be felt by the sick in their illnesses, by the weakly in their infirmities, by the exiles in their hardships, by the orphans in their destitution, and by solitary widows in their sadness: in the helping of whom there is no one that cannot carry out some amount of benevolence. For no one’s income is small, whose heart is big: and the measure of one’s mercy and goodness does not depend on the size of one’s means. Wealth of goodwill is never rightly lacking, even in a slender purse. Doubtless the expenditure of the rich is greater, and that of the poor smaller, but there is no difference in the fruit of their works, where the purpose of the workers is the same.

I’m afraid Leo’s had to get in line behind some earnest dissertation work and an emergency set of writings now sent off. Right then…

Leo’s very clear here; it’s a straight-forward section to which I can add very little. Responding still to Jesus’ response to Satan in the Temptation, Leo takes the Word of God here as the enticement to good works. He connects in Matt 5:6 but the real guide for this passage lies in Matt 25:31-46. I’ll note too concerning his comments on money. Writing a check is not enough. Actual acts of kindness are called for.

Leo: Sermon 40.3

3. The twofold nature of Christ shown at the Temptation

For whom would he not dare to try, who did not keep from his treacherous attempts even on our Lord Jesus Christ? For, as the story of the Gospel has disclosed , when our Saviour, Who was true God, that He might show Himself true Man also, and banish all wicked and erroneous opinions, after the fast of 40 days and nights, had experienced the hunger of human weakness, the devil, rejoicing at having found in Him a sign of possible and mortal nature, in order to test the power which he feared, said, If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread Matthew 4:3 . Doubtless the Almighty could do this, and it was easy that at the Creator’s command a creature of any kind should change into the form that it was commanded: just as when He willed it, in the marriage feast, He changed the water into wine: but here it better agreed with His purposes of salvation that His haughty foe’s cunning should be vanquished by the Lord, not in the power of His Godhead, but by the mystery of His humiliation. At length, when the devil had been put to flight and the tempter baffled in all his arts, angels came to the Lord and ministered to Him, that He being true Man and true God, His Manhood might be unsullied by those crafty questions, and His Godhead displayed by those holy ministrations. And so let the sons and disciples of the devil be confounded, who, being filled with the poison of vipers, deceive the simple, denying in Christ the presence of both true natures, while they rob either His Godhead of Manhood, or His Manhood of Godhead, although both falsehoods are destroyed by a twofold and simultaneous proof: for by His bodily hunger His perfect Manhood was shown, and by the attendant angels His perfect Godhead.

There’s a lot of stuff crammed in here, not all of it obvious on a first run through. First, we get onto one of Leo’s big hobby-horses—the issue of the two natures of Christ. At this point in our history, the Christological controversies had not been fully “solved”—or at least not entirely adopted by the people. (You’ll note, of course, that this is a perennial problem that keeps popping up in each generation…) Leo’s major contribution to this debate is one of his letters which was sent to the Council of Chalcedon called “the Tome” where he sets forth in clear (and very Western) terms, the doctrine of the two natures. As often as he can in his sermons, Leo makes appeals to details of the text that, in his view, display both natures acting in Christ and the temptation is no different: hunger shows the humanity of Jesus while the ministry of angels shows his divinity.

A second item in play here is Leo’s reading of the Devil and his motives. The tack that Leo takes here is integral to the ‘Christus Victor’ reading where Jesus conceals his divinity, allowing Satan to believe him to be just a man. This is a strong and standard thread in the early readings and in monastic readings in particular. To truly understand this way of reading the temptation, it’s essential to go back to the sources that Leo is drawing upon, preeminently Irenaeus and John Cassian. Ireaneus discuss the temptation in terms of recapitulation; for him the temptation episode itself is a salvific event because it is here, at the beginning of his ministry, that Jesus breaks Satan’s great threefold temptation tool. Jesus’ obedience corrects Adam’s disobedience. The most pertinent section in Iraenaes is Adv. Haer. 5.21. John Cassian takes the same concepts and taps into it from the direction of ascetical theology. Here’s his take on it in Conf. 5.6 (you’ll have to scroll down to Chapter 6…).

So, both christology and ascetical theology are in play here. Probably the main detail that both of these turn upon is the fact that Jesus defeats Satan through purely non-miraculous means. From the Christological perspective, this emphasizes his humanity; from the ascetical theology perspective it emphasizes his role as our chief exemplar. After all, if he defeats the devil on purely human terms, we too (with divine assistance) are capable of accomplishing the same things.

Leo: Sermon 40.2

2. Satan seeks to supply his numerous losses by fresh gains

Hence the reading of the Apostle’s proclamation has sounded opportunely in our ears, saying, Behold now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation . For what is more accepted than this time, what more suitable to salvation than these days, in which war is proclaimed against vices and progress is made in all virtues? You had indeed always to keep watch, O Christian soul, against the enemy of your salvation, lest any spot should be exposed to the tempter’s snares: but now greater wariness and keener prudence must be employed by you when that same foe of yours rages with fiercer hatred. For now in all the world the power of his ancient sway is taken from him, and the countless vessels of captivity are rescued from his grasp. The people of all nations and of all tongues are breaking away from their cruel plunderer, and now no race of men is found that does not struggle against the tyrant’s laws, while through all the borders of the earth many thousands of thousands are being prepared to be reborn in Christ : and as the birth of a new creature draws near, spiritual wickedness is being driven out by those who were possessed by it. The blasphemous fury of the despoiled foe frets, therefore, and seeks new gains because it has lost its ancient right. Unwearied and ever wakeful, he snatches at any sheep he finds straying carelessly from the sacred folds, intent on leading them over the steeps of treasure and down the slopes of luxury into the abodes of death. And so he inflames their wrath, feeds their hatreds, whets their desires, mocks at their continence, arouses their gluttony.

Now Leo’s engaging the appointed Epistle. Indeed, this portion was seized upon by many as there are some great responsories for the Leten Night Office that utilize this bit of 2 Corinthians. We’re also back to the military images and the shadow of Rev 12:12b seems all over this section.

Leo: Sermon 40.1

1. Progress and improvement always possible

Although, dearly-beloved, as the Easter festival approaches, the very recurrence of the season points out to us the Lenten fast, yet our words also must add their exhortations which, the Lord helping us, may be not useless to the active nor irksome to the devout. For since the idea of these days demands the increase of all our religious performances, there is no one, I am sure, that does not feel glad at being incited to good works. For though our nature which, so long as we are mortal, will be changeable, is advancing to the highest pursuits of virtue, yet always has the possibility of falling back, so has it always the possibility of advancing. And this is the true justness of the perfect that they should never assume themselves to be perfect, lest flagging in the purpose of their yet unfinished journey, they should fall into the danger of failure, through giving up the desire for progress.

And, therefore, because none of us, dearly beloved, is so perfect and holy as not to be able to be more perfect and more holy, let us all together, without difference of rank, without distinction of desert, with pious eagerness pursue our race from what we have attained to what we yet aspire to, and make some needful additions to our regular devotions. For he that is not more attentive than usual to religion in these days, is shown at other times to be not attentive enough.

Being a sorry back-slider, I for one, feel glad at being incited to good works… No martial metaphors here. Instead, a fair amount of reference to “the perfect”. I’m not sure how to read this. Being the postmodern that I am, I read it a little ironically, and assume that Leo is setting up a rhetoric ideal for us to measure ourselves against—and fall short. Thus, I see Leo making an appeal to our own spiritual self-seeking. This is perhaps a little questionable as methods for motivation go, but as a mentor (the Jumping One) once noted if you’re talking about virtues and other such habitual actions, even base motives can assist us in forming holy habits.

Leo: Sermon 39.6

VI. The right use of Lent will lead to a happy participation in Easter

Accordingly, dearly-beloved, being mindful of our weakness, because we easily fall into all kinds of faults, let us by no means neglect this special remedy and most effectual healing of our wounds. Let us remit, that we may have remission: let us grant thepardon which we crave: let us not be eager to be revenged when we pray to be forgiven. Let us not pass over the groans of the poor with deaf ear, but with prompt kindness bestow our mercy on the needy, that we may deserve to find mercy in the judgment. And he that, aided by God’s grace, shall strain every nerve after this perfection, will keep this holy fast faithfully; free from the leaven of the old wickedness, in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth 1 Corinthians 5:8, he will reach the blessed Passover, and by newness of life will worthily rejoice in the mystery of man’s reformation through Christ our Lord Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

A satisfactory Leonine conclusion. He pulls in some summarizing thoughts and wraps it up neatly.

Leo: Sermon 39.5

V. Abstinence not only from food but from other evil desires, especially from wrath, is required in Lent

Relying, therefore, dearly-beloved, on these arms, let us enter actively and fearlessly on the contest set before us: so that in this fasting struggle we may not rest satisfied with only this end, that we should think abstinence from food alone desirable. For it is not enough that the substance of our flesh should be reduced, if the strength of the soul be not also developed. When the outer man is somewhat subdued, let the inner man be somewhat refreshed; and when bodily excess is denied to our flesh, let ourmind be invigorated by spiritual delights. Let every Christian scrutinise himself, and search severely into his inmost heart: let him see that no discord cling there, no wrong desire be harboured. Let chasteness drive incontinence far away; let the light of truth dispel the shades of deception; let the swellings of pride subside; let wrath yield to reason; let the darts of ill-treatment be shattered, and the chidings of the tongue be bridled; let thoughts of revenge fall through, and injuries be given over to oblivion. In fine, let every plant which the heavenly Father has not planted be removed by the roots Matthew 15:13 . For then only are the seeds of virtue well nourished in us, when every foreign germ is uprooted from the field of wheat. If any one, therefore, has been fired by the desire for vengeance against another, so that he has given him up to prison or bound him with chains, let him make haste to forgive not only the innocent, but also one who seems worthy of punishment, that he may with confidence make use of the clause in the Lord’s prayer and say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors . Which petition the Lord marks with peculiar emphasis, as if the efficacy of the whole rested on this condition, by saying, For if you forgive men their sins, your Father which is in heaven also will forgive you: but if you forgive not men, neither will your Father forgive you your sins.

Leo: Sermon 39.4

IV. The Christian’s armour is both for defence and for attack

So, dearly-beloved, let us who instructed in Divine learning come wittingly to the present contest and strife, hear the Apostle when he says, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this dark world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly things Ephesians 6:12, and let us not forget that these our enemies feel it is against them all is done that we strive to do for our salvation, and that by the very fact of our seeking after some good thing we are challenging our foes. For this is an old-standing quarrel between us and them fostered by the devil’s ill-will, so that they are tortured by our being justified, because they have fallen from those good things to which we, God helping us, are advancing. If, therefore, we are raised, they are prostrated: if we are strengthened, they are weakened. Our cures are their blows, because they are wounded by our wounds’ cure. Stand, therefore, dearly-beloved, as the Apostle says, having the loins of your mind girt in truth, and your feet shod in the preparation of the gospel of peace, in all things taking the shield of faith in which you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the evil one, and put on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God Ephesians 6:14-17 . See, dearly-beloved, with what mighty weapons, with what impregnable defences we are armed by our Leader, who is famous for His many triumphs, the unconquered Master of the Christian warfare. He has girt our loins with the belt of chastity, He has shod our feet with the bonds of peace: because the unbelted soldier is quickly vanquished by the suggester of immodesty, and he that is unshod is easily bitten by the serpent. He has given the shield of faith for the protection of our whole body; on our head has He set the helmet of salvation; our right hand has He furnished with a sword, that is with the word of Truth: that the spiritual warrior may not only be safe from wounds, but also may have strength to wound his assailant.

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.

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.