Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Letters and Sermons of Leo the Great.: Sermon LXIII
(On the Passion, XII.: preached on Wednesday.)
I. God chose to save man by strength made perfect in weakness.
The glory, dearly-beloved, of the Lords Passion, on which we promised to speak again to-day, is chiefly wonderful for its mystery of humility, which has both ransomed and instructed us all, that He, Who paid the price, might also impart His righteousness to us. For the Omnipotence of the Son of God, whereby He is by the same Essence equal to the Father, might have rescued mankind from the dominion of the devil by the mere exercise of Its will, had it not better suited the Divine working to conquer the opposition of the foes wickedness by that which had been conquered, and to restore our natures liberty by that very nature by which bondage had come upon the whole race. But, when the evangelist says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt in us 1043 ,” and the Apostle, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself 1044 ,” it was shown that the Only-begotten of the Most High Father entered on such a union with human humility, that, when He took the substance of our flesh and soul, He remained one and the same Son of God by exalting our properties, not His own: because it was the weakness, not the power that had to be reinforced, so that upon the union of the creature with the Creator there should be nothing wanting of the Divine to the assumed, nor of the human to the Assuming.
II. Gods plan was always partially understood, and is now of universal application.
This plan of Gods mercy and justice, though in the ages past it was in a measure enshrouded in darkness, was yet not so completely hidden that the saints, who have most merited praise from the beginning till the coming of the Lord, were precluded from understanding it: seeing that the salvation, which was to come through Christ, was promised both by the words of prophecy and by the significance of events, and this salvation not only they attained who foretold it, but all they also who believed their predictions. For the one Faith justifies the saints of all ages, and to the self-same hope of the faithful pertains all that by Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man, we acknowledge done, or our fathers reverently accepted as to be done. And between Jew and Gentile there is no distinction, since, as the Apostle says, “Circumcision is p. 176 nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of Gods commands 1045 ,” and if they be kept in entirety of faith, they make Christians the true sons of Abraham, that is perfect, for the same Apostle says, “For whosoever of you were baptized in Christ Jesus, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither slave nor free: there is neither male nor female. For ye are all one in Christ. But if ye are Christs, then are ye Abrahams seed, heirs according to promise 1046 .”
III. The union of the Divine Head with Its members inseparable.
There is no doubt therefore, dearly-beloved, that mans nature has been received by the Son of God into such a union that not only in that Man Who is the first-begotten of all creatures, but also in all His saints there is one and the self-same Christ, and as the Head cannot be separated from the members, so the members cannot be separated from the Head. For although it is not in this life, but in eternity that God is to be “all in all 1047 ,” yet even now He is the inseparable Inhabitant of His temple, which is the Church, according as He Himself promised, saying, “Lo! I am with you all the days till the end of the age 1048 .” And agreeably therewith the Apostle says, “He is the head of the body, the Church, which is the beginning, the first-begotten from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence, because in Him it was pleasing that all fulness (of the Godhead) should dwell, and that through Him all things should be reconciled in Himself 1049 .”
IV. Christs passion provided a saving mystery and an example for us to follow.
And what is suggested to our hearts by these and many other references, save that we should in all things be renewed in His image Who, remaining “in the form of God 1050 ,” deigned to “take the form” of sinful flesh? For all our weaknesses, which come from sin, He took on Him without sharing in sin, so that He felt the sensation of hunger and thirst and sleep and fatigue, and grief and weeping, and suffered the fiercest pangs up to the extremity of death, because no one could be loosed from the snares of death, unless He in Whom alone all mens nature was guileless allowed Himself to be slain by the hands of wicked men. And hence our Saviour the Son of God provided for all that believe in Him both a mystery and an example 1051 , that they might apprehend the one by being born again, and follow the other by imitation. For the blessed Apostle Peter teaches this, saying, “Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example that ye should follow His steps. Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. Who when He was reviled, reviled not: when He suffered, threatened not, but gave Himself up to His unjust judge. Who Himself bare our sins in His body on the tree, that being dead to sins, we may live to righteousness 1052 .”
V. Christ not destroyed, but fulfilled and elevated the Law.
As therefore there is no believer, dearly-beloved, to whom the gifts of grace are denied, so there is no one who is not a debtor in the matter of Christian discipline; because, although the severity of the mystic Law is done away, yet the benefits of its voluntary observance have increased, as the evangelist John says, “Because the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ 1053 .” For all things that, according to the Law, went before, whether in the circumcision of the flesh, or in the multitude of victims, or in the keeping of the Sabbath, testified of Christ, and foretold the grace of Christ. And He is “the end of the Law 1054 ,” not by annulling, but by fulfilling its meanings. For although He is at once the Author of the old and of the new, yet He changed the symbolic rites connected with the promises, because He accomplished the promises and put an end to the announcement by the coming of the Announced. But in the matter of moral precepts, no decrees of the earlier Testament are rejected, but many of them are amplified by the Gospel teaching: so that the things which give salvation are more perfect and clearer than those which promise a Saviour.
VI. The present effect of Christs passion is daily realized by Christians, especially in Holy Baptism.
All therefore that the Son of God did and taught for the worlds reconciliation, we not only know as a matter of past history, but appreciate in the power of its present effect. It is He Who, born of the Virgin Mother by the Holy Ghost, fertilizes His unpolluted Church with the same blessed Spirit, that by p. 177 the birth of Baptism an innumerable multitude of sons may be born to God, of Whom it is said, “who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God 1055 .” It is He, in Whom the seed of Abraham is blessed by the adoption of the whole world 1056 , and the patriarch becomes the father of nations by the birth, through faith not flesh, of the sons of promise. It is He Who, without excluding any nation, makes one flock of holy sheep from every nation under heaven, and daily fulfils what He promised, saying, “Other sheep also I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd 1057 .” For though to the blessed Peter first and foremost He says, “Feed My sheep 1058 ;” yet the one Lord directs the charge of all the shepherds, and feeds those that come to the rock with such glad and well-watered pastures, that countless sheep are nourished by the richness of His love, and hesitate not to perish for the Shepherds sake, even as the good Shepherd Himself was content to lay down His life for His sheep. It is He whose sufferings are shared not only by the martyrs glorious courage, but also in the very act of regeneration by the faith of all the new-born. For the renunciation of the devil and belief in God 1059 , the passing from the old state into newness of life, the casting off of the earthly image, and the putting on of the heavenly form—all this is a sort of dying and rising again, whereby he that is received by Christ and receives Christ is not the same after as he was before he came to the font, for the body of the regenerate becomes the flesh of the Crucified 1060 .
VII. The good works of Christians are only part of Christs good works.
This change, dearly-beloved, is the handiwork of the Most High 1061 , Who “worketh all things in all,” so that by the good manner of life observed in each one of the faithful, we know Him to be the Author of all just works, and give thanks to Gods mercy, Who so adorns the whole body of the Church with countless gracious gifts, that through the many rays of the one Light the same brightness is everywhere diffused, and that which is well done by any Christian whatsoever cannot but be part of the glory of Christ. This is that true Light which justifies and enlightens every man. This it is that rescues from the power of darkness and transfers us into the Kingdom of the Son of God. This it is that by newness of life exalts the desires of the mind and quenches the lusts of the flesh. This it is whereby the Lords Passover is duly kept “With the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” by the casting away of “the old leaven of wickedness 1062 ” and the inebriating and feeding of the new creature with the very Lord. For naught else is brought about by the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ than that we pass into that which we then take 1063 , and both in spirit and in body carry everywhere Him, in and with Whom we were dead, buried, and rose again, as the Apostle says, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. For when Christ, your life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory 1064 .” Who with the Father, &c.
S. John i. 14.175:1044
2 Cor. v. 19.176:1045
1 Cor. vii. 19.176:1046
Gal. iii. 27-29.176:1047
1 Cor. xv. 28.176:1048
S. Matt. xxviii. 20.176:1049
Col. i. 18-20: the word Divinitatis (of the Godhead) is omitted by some of the mss. here.176:1050
Cf. Phil. 2:6, 7.176:1051
Sacramentum (with its saving efficacy) et exemplum (with its spur to exertion), see Brights n. 74.176:1052
1 Pet. ii. 21-24: notice the reading of the Vulgate indicanti se iniuste for the correct τῷ κρίνοντι δικαίως (namely God).176:1053
S. John i. 17.176:1054
Rom. x. 4.177:1055
S. John i. 13.177:1056
Cf. Gen. xxii. 18.177:1057
S. John x. 16.177:1058
The renouncing of the Devil and all his works and the professing of faith in God have always preceded the rite of Baptism: see Brights notes 78 and 142.177:1060
Corpus regenerati fiat caro crucifixi an almost unduly strong assertion of the union between Christ, the Head and the members of His body, the Church effected by Holy Baptism: see Hooker, Eccl. Pol. v. 60. 2, quoted by Bright, n. 79.177:1061
Cf. Ps. 77:10, 1 Cor. 17:6.177:1062
1 Cor. v. 8.177:1063
ut in id, quod sumimus, transeamus. He uses the same strong expression in Letter LIX. 2, ut accipientes virtutem cœlestis cibi, in carnem ipsius qui caro nostra factus est, transeamus.177:1064
Col. 3:3, 4.
Next: Sermon LXVII
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