Sunday, August 16, 2009

Faith - Sermon 12 - St. Caesarius of Arles

St. Caesarius of Arles (468-542)

Sermon 12


(1) In all the divine lessons, dearly beloved, faith is lauded with many praises; in fact, not only sacred Scripture but also the entire human race ceaselessly extols it. Would that it were praised by the lives of men as it is praised with the tongue! As it is preached with the mouth, so may it be observed wholeheartedly; as it is uttered with the lips, so may it be fulfilled in deed. So great is the virtue of faith that even those who refuse to keep it still presume to praise it. Truly deservedly is faith extolled, for without it no good work is ever begun or completed, according to what is written: ‘Without faith it is impossible for anyone to please God.’1 In the person of Christ and the Church it is said concerning it: ‘Come, my neighbor from the beginning of faith.’2 The Apostle Paul commended it individually in that list in which he praised all the saints of old:’ By faith Abel, by faith Henoch, by faith Noe, by faith Abraham pleased God’3 and so forth. Concerning this the Lord Himself said in the Gospel: ‘Thy faith has saved thee,’4 and again: ‘if thou believest, all things are possible to him who believes’5 and: ‘if you have faith even like a mustard seed, you will say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted, and be transplanted," and it will obey you.’6 Although the virtue of faith is commended with so much praise, the essence of its name is not known by many. Faith received its name from a fact, that is, from something which is done, and in it is contained the strength of all human as well as divine things. Therefore, even if a man says verbally and with many oaths that he possesses faith, if he is unwilling to fulfill in deed what he says verbally that he believes, that is not faith. Faith, as I said, derives its name from a fact.

(2) Let us see what a man should do if he wants to keep his faith intact. Doubtless, he should trust with all his heart that what is the exceedingly firm foundation of the Christian religion is true, namely, what God promises and what He threatens. Then, indeed, a man can understand the word faith and realize more fully its power, if he keeps before his eyes those two facts: the reward of eternal life and the penalty of endless punishment. Since it does no good to believe in one and doubt about the other, each one should examine his heart with great diligence to see whether he faithfully believes. Perhaps a man knows that in these two matters he possesses true faith, maintaining with a firm heart that the just will receive glory after their good deeds, while the unjust will suffer endless punishment after their evil. If, while faithfully believing these truths, he strives with his whole mind to perform good works so that he may arrive at the reward, and to avoid evil so that he may escape punishment, a man should rejoice that he is keeping an upright faith. Moreover, he should give thanks to God and with His help endeavor to persevere in the very work. Therefore, brethren, if you will carefully pay attention to this, you can realize more fully the name and power of faith. Because faith received its name from a fact, as I said before, if you say a thousand times that you have faith but refuse to fulfill in deed what you promise in words, it is not faith at all. Moreover, if you claim to believe in the reward which God promises and the punishment which He threatens and still, as was said, refuse to act in such a way as to escape endless punishment and obtain eternal rewards, there is no faith at all in you. Not only does it fail to benefit you to say in words that you are believing, but it even does you much harm. It is better for a man not to promise than to be unwilling to fulfill what he has promised. The name of faith alone cannot free you. Instead, as was said already, you will be doubly guilty if you refuse to carry out what you have promised verbally, for the Holy Spirit proclaims to you through James: ‘Faith without works is dead.’7

(3) Although a man ought to fulfill everything he promises if possible, that first excellent promise which we make to God at the time when we are reborn in baptism we should especially safeguard with His help. We are asked at baptism whether we will renounce the Devil, his pomps, and his works; we freely answer that we will renounce them. Since infants can by no means confess this themselves, their parents stand as surety for them. Therefore, if we faithfully observe what is the first and fundamental fact of the Christian religion, it is certain that with God’s help we will be able to do the rest. However, if we neglect to fulfill what we promise to God, I do not know whether we will be able to preserve the faith which operates among men. Now, if we dangerously make a promise to an influential man when we neglect to carry it out, how much more dangerously do we make a promise to God and then not pay it? We fear a man so much because we dread death or material loss; we refuse to give God what we promise because we are entirely without fear for the death of our soul. Where is that Gospel text which says: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body’ But rather be afraid of him who, after he has killed, has power to send it to hell’?8 Therefore, what is promised to God should be done first of all, in order that what is promised to men may be fulfilled. Let each one examine his own conscience. If he sees that he has kept his promise and knows that he has renounced the Devil with his pomps both in word and in deed, he should rejoice that he has kept his faith whole. However, let him be secure concerning the past in such a way that he is solicitous for the future, because not he who has begun but ‘he who has persevered to the end will be saved.’ 9 Let no one believe, perchance5 that faith can only be shattered by mortal sins. What difference does it make whether a man strikes and kills himself with a larger or smaller sword? Anyone who says this should notice that faith can even be endangered by idle talk, of which the Lord said an account must be rendered on the day of judgment. Moreover, ‘Whoever says to his brother, "Raca," or "Thou fool!" shall be liable to the fire of Gehenna.’10

(4) Therefore, as was already said, let each one consider what he promised in the sacrament of baptism. Since he made a pact with the Lord, let him see whether he has violated it in any way. When the question was asked: ‘Do you renounce the devil, his pomps, and his works?’ then the priest offered a contract for approval. When the individual answered: ‘I do renounce them,’11 it was approved. For this reason, as was said above, if we refuse to do what we have promised to God, I do not know whether we will be able to preserve fidelity to men. Now, we have promised to renounce the Devil with his pomps and works. Almost no one is ignorant of what the Devil’s pomps are, yet it is necessary for us to mention them at some length. All furious, bloody, or shameful spectacles are pomps of the Devil. To be a slave to gluttony or drunkenness, to subject one’s unfortunate soul to lust or dissipation, certainly belongs to the Devil’s pomps, because in such actions his will is fulfilled. What need is there to say concerning adultery, murder, robbery, and false testimony that they are part of the Devil’s pomp and works, since no man can be ignorant of the fact? There is no doubt that to observe omens and to summon charmers, sorcerers, soothsayers, or seers belongs entirely to the pomp and works of the Devil. For this reason, since few people can be found who happily are free from all these things, each one, as I already said, should return to his own conscience. While his soul is yet contained in this poor body he should hasten to redeem or correct through repentance, almsgiving, and especially the forgiveness of his enemies, whatever of these aforementioned vices he knows has been or is present in himself. With God’s help let him strive so to cure past wounds that he may never again presume to commit anything whereby he might be wounded anew.

(5) Let no one vainly deceive himself by saying: I believe in God’s mercy, that the faith and my baptism which I have received will never die. You believe rightly, if you have done what you promised. If you have kept the pact which you entered upon with the Lord, rest assured that your faith and baptism will not perish. However, if you have not fulfilled in deed what you promised in word, with what boldness or with what kind of a conscience do you feel sure that your baptism will not perish, since you have not kept your contract? Listen to the Lord’s words saying: ‘What does it avail you to call me, "Lord, Lord," and not to practice the things that I say?’ and again : ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me,’ and: ‘not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in heaven’12 Carefully notice that, according to the lines quoted above, it does a man no good to say that he possesses faith, if he neglects to fulfill in deed what he promises in word. As the Scriptures say: ‘If thou hast vowed anything to God, defer not to pay it. For an unfaithful and foolish promise displeaseth him. It is much better not to vow than after a vow not to perform the things promised.’13 In order that we may understand these facts clearly from our relations with our servants, let someone tell me whether it is enough for him if his servant says all day that he is his lord and ceases not to commend him with praises, but refuses to do what has been commanded. Therefore, if words without deeds do not please us, how much more can faith without works fail to benefit us in the sight of God? Above all, we must fear lest someone believes so strongly that he will receive God’s mercy that he does not dread His justice. If a man does this, he has no faith. Likewise, if he dreads God’s justice so much that he despairs of His mercy, there is no faith. Since God is not only merciful but also just, let us believe in both. Let us not despair of His mercy because we fear His justice, nor love His mercy so much that we disregard His justice. Therefore, we should neither hope wrongly nor despair wickedly. A man who hopes wrongly thinks he can merit mercy without penance and good works; one who despairs wickedly does not believe he will receive mercy even after the performance of good works. Therefore, above all, we should consider and fear lest we believe that faith without good works can suffice for us. Let us fear the words of the Apostle James: e just as the body without the soul is dead, so faith also without works is dead,’14 and further: ethou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well. The devils also believe, and tremble.’ 15 See, brethren, the Apostle says that a man who believes and does not act has the faith of demons. Now if one who believes but fails to act is called similar to demons, it is for you to judge what hope a man can have if he does not believe. The demons believe God exists, but they do not perform what He commands; this man is proved not to believe, because he is unwilling to fulfill in deed what he seems to promise in word.

(6) Now I want to speak to your charity briefly, so that you may be able to understand more fully the works of faith and its virtue. The whole virtue of faith seems to consist in two things: one, as was already said, that we believe most firmly that what God promises is true; the other, that it is fixed in our minds that what God threatens is not false. Believe with your whole heart and mind that after good works you will receive the reward which is promised; similarly, without any hesitation believe that, if you have done evil, you will suffer endless punishment. Then you may know that your faith is entire, on condition that you fulfill by deeds what you believe in your heart, and without any delay turn away from evil to do good. In turning from evil you believe there is punishment; in doing good you believe that you will attain to a reward. Know, however, that it does not benefit you to believe the one and doubt the other. It is profitable to turn away from evil only if a man immediately does good. Likewise, it is advantageous to do good only if one completely turns away from evil. I have mentioned this because there are many people who seem to give alms as the result of robbery and fraud, yet are unwilling to desist from these evils. As I have said, dearly beloved, it is profitable for you to avoid evil if you know that you are doing what pleases God. Then you can devoutly believe a reward will be given to you because of your good works, if with God’s help you begin to refrain entirely from evil. Indeed, if you want to do good and evil at the same time, what can it avail to build up on one side and to destroy on the other, to rob one man and to clothe another? To such men the Lord says in the Gospel: ‘Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad.’16 Moreover, Solomon says: ‘As a dog is hateful when he returneth to his vomit, so also the sinner, when he returneth to his sin’;17 while in prophecy we read: ‘woe to the sinner that goeth on the earth two ways’;18 and elsewhere: ‘no man can serve two masters.’19 Therefore, as we have said rather often above, since faith receives its name from a fact or something which is done, a man says with confidence that he believes if he is willing to fulfill in deed what he has said he believes. The whole virtue of faith, as was said, is to believe both what God promises and what He threatens. Now, if we want perfect faith to abide in us, let us avoid evil in fear of punishment, and let us strive with all our strength to do good through the desire for reward. Then we will not be forced to endure eternal punishment with unbelievers and the wicked, but will merit to obtain unending reward along with the faithful who persevere in good works. May He deign to grant this, who, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns world without end. Amen.

1 Cf. Heb. 11.6.

2 Cant. 4.8 (Septuagint)

3 Heb, 11.4-40.

4 Luke 17.19.

5 Mark 9.22.

6 Cf. Luke 17.6.

7 James 2.26.

8 Cf. Matt. 10.28.

9 Matt. 10.22.

10 Matt, 5.22.

11 These are some of the words belonging to the ceremonial of baptism.

12 Luke 6.46; John 14.21; Matt. 7.21.

13 Eccle. 5 3,4.

14 Cf. James 2.26. The text has ‘amma’; the Vulgate has ‘spintu.’

15 James 2-19.

16 Matt. 12.33.

17 Prov. 26.11.

18 Eccli 2.14.

19 Matt 6.24.

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